Is Lavender Oil Safe For Cats? The Dangers Of Lavender For Cats
In Disney’s film adaptation of the beloved musical Into the Woods it is specifically lavender blossoms that the Big Bad Wolf persuades Little Red Riding Hood to gather in a bouquet for Granny. In the language of flowers, lavender symbolizes the girl becoming a woman as well as caution. As Little Red learns that growing up means learning to be cautious, this is the perfect flower for her.
Not so much for your cat. When lavender oil and cats are mixed only the most utmost of caution should be practiced.
What Lavender Is
There are 47 separate species of the genus Lavendula. The most common species is Lavendula angustifolia and it is the type most often used in making essential oils. The leaves are simple, often covered in fine hairs. The whorl shaped flowers grow on spikes and are generally the pale purple color that shares its name with the flower though some wild species are blue, yellow or blackish purple.
Since ancient times, an infusion of lavender has been an important ingredient in soap making and scenting bath water. In fact, the word “lavender comes from the Latin “lavare” meaning “to wash”. The flower has a sweet, softly musky scent. People find the scent relaxing to almost tranquilizing making it popular with people who like a warm bath before bed.
The only insects that seem to have a tolerance for lavender are butterflies and honeybees, the two insects you actually want in your garden. A tea made with lavender is sweet with citrus notes. Lavender buds can flavor both sweet and savory dishes and pairs well with chocolate.
Because lavender is so ubiquitous and has such a pleasing aroma, some pet parents might think it would be good for their cat. The truth is, it really isn’t. While a nibble or two of a lavender plant might not hurt Kitty, a large amount might, particularly in the concentrated form of lavender oil.
Lavender and Toxicity
According to the ASPCA, the lavender is toxic to cats. Fortunately, it’s only mildly toxic. Overconsumption of the plant may not result in death, but Kitty may experience nausea, vomiting and a loss of appetite. Lavender contains a chemical called linalool that is only stronger in concentration in lavender essential oils.
Under no circumstances should a cat be fed lavender essential oil nor should it be left where curious little tongues can lap at it.
A cat’s liver is simply incapable of breaking down the chemicals in essential oils. Because an essential oil is so concentrated, the natural enzymes in them can be anywhere from 500 to even 2000 times stronger than the original plant. Because of this, probably very few essential oils are safe for cats to ingest. Lavender is certainly not safe for ingestion.
If you have lavender oil in a diffuser, put it where Kitty can’t get to it. Inhaling diffused lavender oil might not harm your cat, but keep the room ventilated and make sure she can leave the room should she find the smell unpleasant.
Lavender and Fleas
Is it safe to use lavender oil as a flea repellent? Keep in mind, whatever goes on your cat’s body may wind up in their mouth. Cats use their tongues to groom themselves. If you really want to try lavender oil as a flea repellent on your cat, at least use commercially produced products rather than anything homebrewed.
A better choice might be to use lavender on flea infested carpets and furniture, spread thinly or tucked between cushions where your cat is unlikely to ingest it.
If you find that your cat has a little flea problem, comb through her fur with a stiff comb dipped in water and non-toxic liquid dish detergent. If she’ll put up with a bath, try that. Your veterinarian can recommend medications, both oral and topical, that will fix your cat’s problems.
A spritzing of 50% water and 50% apple cider vinegar can also safely treat your cat’s flea problem, provided your cat will sit still for a spritzing. (You didn’t use this as a method of punishment, did you?) To inhibit further flea infestations, you can have your feline companion wear a collar that’s been treated with the chemicals flumethrin and imidacloprid. Another alternative is peppermint but it is also not a safe way to get rid of fleas from your cat.
Your cat will be happy to know that her favorite plant, catnip, can destroy flea eggs and larva. Sprinkle some on Kitty’s bedding after washing it. You’ll cut down on fleas, but Kitty might be more reluctant than usual to leave her bed!
Lavender and Anxiety
In aromatherapy, lavender is used to aid in relaxation. In some cats, lavender can do just the opposite! Some products that are designed to repel cats even contain lavender. Your mileage may vary. Some cats don’t mind lavender scents, but some absolutely hate them. Your cat will let you know after one sniff what her opinion is.
Considering the average cat sleeps between 16 to 20 hours a day, does she really need to be any more relaxed? Some people use lavender incense to aid in meditation, but cats really aren’t into that. A cat would probably say “Be one with the Universe? I AM the Universe!”
If your cat has been showing signs of anxiety (inappropriate urination or scratching for example) extra playtime may be what she needs to calm down and burn off energy. If you really want to use an herbal supplement, valerian or chamomile might be better choices. Some collars are infused with lavender and advertise as being good for calming cats.
They’re recommended as being good for soothing cats while traveling, caged or other uncomfortable situations. Actual results vary and may depend on how much your cat likes the smell. For extreme cases of anxiety, you might want to ask your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication.
Other Uses of Lavender
Using lavender scented products yourself may not harm your cat. If you use a lavender lotion, make sure it’s fully absorbed before touching your cat, as you should with any lotion. If you use lavender scented soaps, lotions, perfumes or shampoos they will not harm your cat, though if she dislikes the smell she’ll let you know by avoiding you.
Don’t use these products on your cat, however. Only use the mildest of soaps if you must bathe your cat such as mild dish detergent, (Not naming names, but think of a sunrise.) baby shampoo or better yet, shampoo specially formulated for cats. Most cats don’t care for lotions anyway.
If your cat has a minor skin irritant you can sooth it with either a specially formulated for application to cats or a certain petroleum based lubricant. (Again, not naming names, but it rhymes with “gasoline”.)
Lavender, while not the most toxic substance, is not really something your cat needs. The essential oil in particular should be kept far away from your four footed friend. It is an effective and natural flea repellent, but should probably be applied to carpets and furniture rather than the cat herself.
Lavender scents may or may not help your cat calm down. Natural doesn’t always mean safe, so consult with your veterinarian. There are plenty of other natural options to explore. Find one that will suit both you and your cat.