Basil and Your Feline: Can Cats Eat Basil?
Here’s an interesting anecdote about basil. A chef and one of his cooks disagreed on whether the spice is pronounced “baz-ill” or “base-ill”. The chef insists that the spice is pronounced “base-ill” because “baz-ill” is the name of the guy in all the old Sherlock Holmes films. (A reference to the celebrated British actor Basil Rathbone) The cook responded “I’ll be sure to tell Roz-Maury Clooney that.”
Let’s put the argument about pronunciation off and discuss whether it’s safe to give your cat Basil. That depends on how Basil feels about cats. Joking aside! Is this a safe herb to give your cat?
Why Cats Eat Basil
For the most part, yes. If you have an herb garden, Kitty might be attracted to the smell and taste of basil and want to take a little taste. Some cats nibble plants out of pure curiosity, but some do it to sooth tummy aches. There is some truth to the old wives’ tale that a cat eating grass means rain. A sudden change in barometric pressure can cause a small creature’s stomach muscles to contract.
Kitty might nibble on grass to ease the pain. Basil in particular is used medicinally to treat stomach spasms and to promote blood circulation. For this reason, basil might work even better than ordinary grass for fixing aching tummies.
Health Benefits of Basil
While cats can’t digest most plant nutrients, the antioxidants in basil might benefit your cat’s health. This is particularly true if Kitty has arthritis or other ailments brought on by the effects of old age. If your cat has been nervous lately or in a situation like a long car trip that may cause anxiety, a little bit of basil might help her relax.
Some cats just like the flavor of basil. If your cat does, maybe sprinkle a little into their food as a healthy treat. It’s also very high in calcium, a necessary nutrient that cats in the wild would get from chomping on the bones of prey. Milk can give adult cats diarrhea and not everyone’s a born mouser so basil may be a good calcium supplement for your cat.
Basil is rich in vitamin A. Your cat already has great low light vision, but stronger teeth and bones are an asset to a delicate animal whose curiosity can lead them into dangerous situations. You can use the oil of basil as a natural insect repellent to discourage fleas, ticks and mosquitos from nibbling on your cat without worrying if licking it will harm her.
How to Identify Basil
If you grow basil, you certainly know what it is! But suppose your neighbor has an herb garden and doesn’t quite care for the fact that Kitty has been using it as her personal buffet. (Naughty Kitty!) Or suppose Kitty has snuck into a church and nibbled on a potted basil (also known as St. Joseph’s wort) used to make holy water. (Blasphemous Kitty!)
Basil is a deep green, leafy plant. Several branches grow from a square, heavy stem generally reaching a height of two to two and a half feet. The leaves are oblong and pointed with a slight downward curve with grooved veins. Some varieties have purple leaves. A mature plant has tiny white or purple spiky flowers.
The pungent smell can be described as peppery but sweet, comparable to mint or licorice. It can be used to flavor many savory dishes but is one of the major ingredients used in pesto.
Negative Side Effects
It is very possible for Kitty to have too much of a good thing. It’s well known if left to their own devices, cats can overindulge. The reason basil is such a good anti-inflammatory agent and anti-anxiety treatment is because it lowers blood pressure. Blood pressure that’s too low can be as bad as blood pressure that’s too high.
Basil can also cause blood to clot slowly which can be bad if Kitty gets wounded. Some cats may have an allergic reaction to basil. If your cat has hives, swelling, discharge, vomiting or respiratory problems after contact with basil she’s probably allergic and should be kept away from the plant.
If that savory aroma keeps drawing her back for more, try surrounding the basil plant with plants cats hate such as rosemary, lavender or Coleus canina, also known as “scaredy cat plant” due to being a surefire cat repellent. Cats are also repulsed by anything that smells of citrus.
In case you’re still wondering, as the herb’s name derives from the Latin from the Greek, the a in “basil” is short as in the word “basilica”. Both words have their roots (no pun intended) in the Latin for “royal” or “kingly”. It is perfectly safe and even beneficial for your cat to occasionally nibble on the odd basil plant.
You might even want to add a little to Kitty’s food sometime. It is rich in nutrients, antioxidants and is a natural insect repellant. It is deep green, leafy with small flowers and has a unique but not unpleasant odor. A little too much basil can lead to low blood pressure.
It’s rare that a cat is ever allergic to basil but the symptoms are fairly obvious. Natural remedies can be employed should you wish a cat to stay away from a plant. Basil is a delicious, aromatic herb that humans have enjoyed for centuries and you can rest easy knowing that your cat may enjoy it as well.
- Sweet Basil University of Illinois Extension
- Cat Grass: The Benefits of Salad for Your Cat bluecrossanimalhospital.ca
- Role of natural herbs in the treatment of hypertension Nahida Tabassum and Feroz Ahmad Pharmacogn Rev. 2011 Jan-Jun; 5(9): 30–40. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.79097