Is Lavender and Chamomile Safe for Cats? The Essential Facts

Is Lavender and Chamomile Safe for Cats - light grey tabby cat outside sitting in a patch of lavender

In the realm of holistic health and natural wellness, essential oils have long been celebrated for their soothing and therapeutic properties. However, as pet owners increasingly incorporate these natural remedies into their own lives, it becomes important to question their safety and suitability for our pets.

Lavender and chamomile are two of the most popular essential oils, and are often promoted as safe for cats. But are they really?

This article examines this question of “Is Lavender and Chamomile Safe for Cats”, drawing upon scientific research, veterinary insights, and a thorough understanding of cats’ unique physiological responses. Join us as we discover the balance between embracing natural wellness practices and ensuring the utmost safety for our cat companions.

Is Lavender and Chamomile Safe for Cats: The Truth

Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts known for their therapeutic properties. But what is good for humans is not always good for cats. These potent oils contain compounds that are toxic to cats due to their unique metabolism and physiology.

Cats lack specific liver enzymes necessary for metabolizing compounds found in essential oils. Because of this deficiency, the ability of the cat’s liver to metabolize and eliminate these compounds is limited. As a result, they are more prone to toxicities and adverse reactions, which may result in liver damage, liver failure, or even death.

This higher risk means we need to be more cautious about what products we use around our feline friends.  Lavender and chamomile are often promoted as being safe essential oils to use around cats. But is this true?

Lavender and Chamomile Toxicity in Cats

Lavender essential oil is widely used in aromatherapy to  promote relaxation and alleviate stress. Its sedative effects in humans are known to help with anxiety, insomnia, and even pain relief. 

Similarly, chamomile is often used for its calming properties, aiding in sleep and reducing irritability. It is also known to have healing properties.

But when it comes to cats, things get a little more complicated. While lavender and chamomile may be safe in low concentrations or diluted forms, they can still cause problems for cats.

Cats are particularly sensitive to the compounds linalool and limonene, which are  some of the main constituents of lavender oil. They are also very sensitive to bisabolol, which is the main compound found in chamomile oil. 

Not only are the concentrated essential oils toxic to cats, the chamomile and lavender plants themselves are not safe either. The  American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals lists both lavender and chamomile plants as being two of the many plants that are not safe for cats. 

Is Lavender and Chamomile Safe for Cats - white seal point kitten playing with chamomile flowers

Are There Benefits of Lavender and Chamomile for Cats?

Despite the potential risks, many pet owners still use these products on their cats . Some cat owners have reported success in using diluted lavender oil as part of a natural flea repellent. Similarly, chamomile has been touted as a gentle remedy for skin irritations or minor wounds.

The key here is that these oils are used in “very dilute amounts”. But what is a safe dilution? Unfortunately, there is no agreed-upon, universal standard to determine what low concentration or dilution means when using essential oils on cats.

So, What’s the Verdict?

As a veterinarian, I cannot recommend the use of these oils on my patients at any dilution, simply because there is no information available on what a safe dilution rate is. A certain dilution that may be perfectly safe for one cat can be lethal to another cat that has underlying liver disease or health problems.

In my professional opinion, it is just not worth the risk. The bottom line is that while lavender and chamomile may have some potential health benefits for our cats, the risks of toxicity far outweigh any potential benefits.  

Moreover, there are plenty of safe and effective alternative remedies available specifically formulated for cats.

The takeaway: Proceed with extreme caution when it comes to any essential oils in a cat’s environment. What may seem like a small quantity can have significant implications for their health.

Alternatives to Essential Oils

If lavender and chamomile are a potential no-go, what are the alternatives for creating a calm, cat-friendly space? One word: pheromones.

Synthetic cat pheromones, mimicking the scent glands found on cats, work by signaling safety and reducing stress. These products, available as diffusers, collars, and sprays, have gained traction for their efficacy and, most importantly, their safety.

In fact, numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of pheromones in reducing stress and anxiety behaviors in cats. They have been used to alleviate fears during veterinary visits, moving to a new home, or even introducing a new cat into the household.  

When it comes to wound medications or flea repellent products, always use products approved for use on cats. If you need guidance in this area, consult with your veterinarian for the best and safest options for your cat.

Keeping Your Cat Safe: Tips for Using Lavender and Chamomile for Personal Use

If we own a cat, does that mean we will forever be unable to use lavender and chamomile essential oils for our own benefit and enjoyment?

It is possible to use these oils in your home provided you take precautions. Here are some tips for using these oils safely around cats:

  1. Avoid Direct Exposure: Never apply essential oils directly to your cat’s skin or fur, as this can lead skin irritation as well as absorption through the skin and potential toxicity.
  2. Use Diffusers Wisely: If you use an essential oil diffuser, ensure it’s in a well-ventilated area where your cat can leave if it feels uncomfortable, or use it in a room that the cat is not allowed in at all.  Consider using passive diffusers instead of active ones, as they disperse fewer particles into the air.
  3. Limit Use of Potent Oils: Some oils are more toxic to cats than others. Avoid using oils like tea tree oil, peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, citrus oils, cinnamon, pennyroyal, pine, sweet birch, and wintergreen around your pets.
  4. Secure Storage: Store essential oils out of reach of your pets to prevent accidental ingestion, which can be very harmful.
  5. Ventilation is Key: Always ensure good ventilation in any area where essential oils are used or diffused. This helps reduce the concentration of oil particles in the air that could be harmful to your cat.
  6. Consult a Vet: Before introducing any essential oils into your home, consult with a veterinarian, especially if your cat has a history of breathing problems, liver issues, or other health concerns.
  7. Observe Your Cat: Watch for signs of essential oil poisoning in your cat, which can include drooling, vomiting, respiratory distress (difficulty breathing), or lethargy. If you notice any of these signs, stop using the oils and contact your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately.
  8. Use Hydrosols: Consider using hydrosols (the water-based byproducts from distilling essential oils) as a safer alternative to essential oils. They contain the scent of the plant but are much less concentrated.
  9. Dilution: If you must use essential oils for cleaning or other purposes, ensure they are highly diluted to minimize risks.
  10. Education and Research: Educate yourself about the essential oils that are particularly toxic to cats and avoid using them in your home. Always research before trying a new essential oil to ensure it’s safe for use around pets.

Remember, each cat is unique, and what might be safe for one might not be for another. When in doubt, the safest route is to avoid using essential oils altogether or only use them in areas completely inaccessible to your cat.

Is Lavender and Chamomile Safe for Cats - flamepoint siamese cat with bright blue eye4s crouched on a wooden table looking a blue perfume bottle

Wrapping Up

While the allure of natural remedies and the calming scents of lavender and chamomile are tempting, the invisible dangers they present to cats cannot be overlooked.  The potential risks associated with these oils outweighs the potential benefits, and it is best to err on the side of caution.

Instead, opt for safe and proven alternatives like pheromones specifically designed for cats. Consult with your veterinarian before using any new products or remedies, as they can offer expert advice tailored to your cat’s individual needs. 

By taking necessary precautions and educating yourself, you can create a calm and safe environment for your cat without compromising their health. Let’s prioritize the well-being of our feline friends and keep them safe from any potential harm.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult your veterinarian if you have specific concerns about your pet’s health.

Sources:

  • Pokajewicz, K., Białoń, M., Svydenko, L., Fedin, R., & Hudz, N. (2021). Chemical Composition of the Essential Oil of the New Cultivars of Lavandula angustifolia Mill. Bred in Ukraine. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 26(18), 5681. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26185681
  • Shu, H., & Gu, X. (2022). Effect of a synthetic feline facial pheromone product on stress during transport in domestic cats: a randomised controlled pilot study. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 24(8), 691–699. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X211041305.
  • Zhang, L., Bian, Z., Liu, Q., & Deng, B. (2022). Dealing With Stress in Cats: What Is New About the Olfactory Strategy?. Frontiers in veterinary science, 9, 928943. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2022.928943

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins DVM PhD.

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.