Are herbs safe for cats?
We know that certain herbs can be very beneficial for us and for our canine companions but what about for our feline babies? The answer is a resounding “yes” – so long as you check with your vet to ensure that whatever you give your cat takes into account any particular health issues she may have and potential interactions with medications she may already be on. Also note that essential oils are generally NOT a good idea for most cats and certain herbs can be toxic for cats, including comfrey, foxglove, Indian borage (also known as Spanish thyme), evening primrose, blue cohosh, black cohosh and barberry. Other herbs that can be dangerous for cats include eucalyptus, wild cherry, aloe vera, Oregon grape, chamomile, and pennyroyal.
One note about pennyroyal: It can be used as a natural flea repellent if you soak it and then use the ‘tea’ to bathe your kitty but make sure she doesn’t ingest any as that could prove to be fatal.
Which herbs are good for which conditions?
Now that you have been properly alerted to potential dangers, let’s get to the good stuff. Here are some herbs you may safely use to address the following conditions. Most herbs come in a dry form and you may, of course, grow your own. Many also come in a liquid form and some can be used as a dietary supplement and/or a topical application, depending on the issue to be addressed:
- Allergy, sinus and respiratory issues: Eyebright, nettle and red clover can all be used to give your kitty relief from symptoms commonly associated with colds, including runny eyes and noses, nasal congestion and coughing. If the symptoms, particularly coughing, persist, however, be sure to seek veterinary attention for your ailing feline.
- Asthma relief: Lobelia is an herbal remedy that can suppress asthma attacks. This herb is a respiratory stimulant, expectorant, anti-spasmodic and anti-asthmatic remedy.
- Anti-inflammatory and Antibiotic: Goldenseal contains a biochemical called berberine, which is a natural plant-derived substance with, among other things, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and antibiotic benefits. Goldenseal can be used to address many types of bacteria and fungi, respiratory infections and those involving the gastrointestinal tract.
- Digestive issues: Licorice root added to your cat’s food can help with digestion as well as endocrine and respiratory issues and even inflammation from arthritis. It’s an all-around useful supplement. Caraway, nettle and dill can also be used to treat feline stomach disorders and valerian may be used for colic, gas and cramps. Lastly, dandelion and burdock can both be used as a laxative and dandelion will also help address the underlying digestive upset causing the constipation. Dandelion is particularly handy because it will cause no adverse interaction with any other supplements or medications.
- Flea repellent: Peppermint and rosemary, soaked and made into a ‘tea’ bath. Soak some of your chosen herb in warmish water and give your favorite feline a soothing preventive bath to repel any fleas thinking about colonizing your cat. OK, as soothing as bathing any cat can be.
- Immune system booster: Echinacea, goldenseal, calendula, valerian and red clover can all help your cat fight infections and are also available in liquid form for topical application on wounds and sores.
- Itchy skin: Cat’s claw, dandelion root, rosemary and catnip can all be used in a ‘tea’ bath to soothe itchy skin. You may also feed your cat licorice root for help with allergy itchiness.
- Stimulation for those plump, lazy felines: Valerian is the winner here. While you may take it to help you sleep, it will have the opposite effect on your kitty and may get him moving enough to stop looking like Garfield.
- Stress relief: Catnip – but of course! – as well as cat thyme, valerian, chamomile, hops, or an alcohol-free Bach flower remedy will all help your anxious kitty kick back and chillax. Rosemary can also be used to calm your anxious kitty but be sure to use rosemary externally only in the form of a soothing bath and don’t let kitty lick her paws – or anywhere else – until you have thoroughly rinsed all the rosemary ‘tea’ off her.
- Urinary Tract Infections, Cystitis and Urinary Blockage: Nettle and saw palmetto can both be used as dietary supplements to help with your cat’s urinary tract health and treat feline UTI. Saw palmetto can also be used as a preventive aid for urinary blockage which is particularly prevalent in male cats. Marshmallow can be used for all urinary tract issues, including cystitis and stones.
- Wound care/skin infection: Calendula is great for healing wounds and skin infections due to its powerful antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal activity. You may also give your kitty a bowl of calendula tea. Goldenseal is also a natural disinfectant.
As you can see from our list, many herbs, like catnip, calendula, nettle and goldenseal can be used to address multiple issues your cat my experience. In addition, the following ‘super-herbs’ can be used to treat a multitude of commonly suffered illnesses and conditions:
- Parsley may discourage cancerous tumor growth and can also be used to treat swollen glands, address indigestion, relieve asthma symptoms, reduce coughing and help with lung, stomach, bladder and kidney conditions.
- Red clover can also prevent or slow tumor growth, can be used as an antibiotic and may be useful to address tuberculosis, arthritis and skin disorders.
- Marshmallow – yes, the plant originally used to make those white cubes we love to dunk in hot chocolate or make into S’mores – is also a very healthy herb which can be used to soothe and restore mucus membranes which are located all over your cat’s body and can become inflamed resulting in respiratory problems such as chronic bronchitis and gastrointestinal disorders like inflammatory bowel disease. Marshmallow can also be used to address stomatitis (painful swelling of the gums). Marshmallow is very mild in flavor and therefore easily mixed into your cat’s food, is safe for long-term use and has no side effects or negative interactions with other supplements, foods or medications.
Grow Your Own
If you decide to have your herb garden, you will want to include all of these beneficial herbs. The Growers’ Exchange lists 21 – count them! – herbs that it considers to be safe if your favorite feline decides to get peckish in the middle of your herb garden.
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