I love lavender. I love the flowers, the scent, the color. I love everything about lavender, so imagine my delight when I recently won a gift bag full of lavender scented items. There was a lovely reed diffuser, body wash, moisturizer, even some laundry detergent.
Then someone said, “I hope you don’t have cats!” Oh, but I do. I have three cats. Then I had a little flicker in the back of my mind that reminded me I heard recently lavender is toxic to cats. So I put all those treasures away and didn’t think much more about them.
Then I also remembered that I have been using lavender scented air fresheners around my cats for years. What harm might I have done?
The end of June, I went to the BlogPaws pet blogging conference in Chandler, Arizona. BlogPaws and the Cat Writers’ Association joined forces this year to make the conference doubly awesome. We received swag bags loaded with lots of terrific items provided by the sponsors and vendors.
Over the weekend, I finally had some time to thoroughly go through the bags to see what was in them. I needed to decide what Christy Paws would give away on her blog for her birthday/gotcha day celebration.
One of the items included was a calming collar from Sentry. And there, right on the top, it said lavender and chamomile fragrance. Sentry is part of Sergeant’s Pet Care Products and I know Sergeant’s has had issues with their flea medications so immediately a red flag went up. I knew I had to do some research on lavender. I wanted to know, is lavender toxic to cats and if so, what exactly does that mean?
What Exactly Does Toxic Mean?
As with many things on the internet, you’ll find many opinions. I wasn’t interested in opinions. I wanted some facts. Even the ASPCA lists lavender as toxic to cats so there must be some merit to the claim. (When I look at the list of plants toxic to cats, I wonder how they ever survived!) So, the first thing I wanted to know is, what exactly does toxic mean?
Webster’s Dictionary defines toxic as “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation.” Is this really true of lavender? Could it kill my cat? Some seem to say yes, don’t let it anywhere near your cat. It will destroy it’s liver. On the other end of the spectrum, an article in Catster says it is safe for your cats to eat.
Does a Plant Have to be Deadly to be Classified as Toxic?
This is where the confusion and varying opinions come in to play. The answer is a resounding NO! Plants don’t have to be deadly to be classified as toxic. Toxic can mean anything from a little will kill to a whole lot will cause an upset stomach. A “toxic plant” list tells you nothing about how much is dangerous.
Lavender falls into the “a whole lot will cause an upset stomach” category. Ingesting the plant or flowers may cause a mild GI upset with nausea and vomiting, according to the ASPCA. Moderation is the key and I think most cats are good at the moderation part on their own.
What About Lavender Lotions and Diffusers?
But back to my goodies. I wasn’t planning on feeding lavender to my cats. I don’t even have a lavender plant. I want to use my room deodorizers and reed diffuser. I want to wear the lavender scented lotion. What about those? And what about that calming collar?
Dr. Melissa Shelton, who has pioneered the use of essential oils to treat animals, has used lavender (and other oils) in diffusers for years. When she first started, she watched her kitties closely and did lots of blood work to make sure they were healthy. She continued to monitor them to make sure no abnormalities were developing. Based on this and her observation of her cats’ behavior, she went on to explore further the use of essential oils for cats.
I feel pretty comfortable that my reed diffuser is fine to use around my cats. Of course, I have made sure they can’t get to it where they might ingest the oil and they can leave the room to get away from it.
If my cats don’t like the way something I have used smells, they let me know by moving away from me or it. It is unlikely that any hand or body lotion would contain enough lavender to create any kind of a problem but, to be safe, some recommend you wait until it is completely absorbed before touching your cat. I do that with any lotion anyway.
And as for that calming collar, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, research has confirmed that lavender produces slight calming, soothing, and sedative effects when its scent is inhaled. Sentry says their collar uses “a pheromone that mimics the one mother cats produce to calm their kittens, the collars are clinically proven to reduce or eliminate stress-related behavior such as inappropriate marking, destructive behavior, clawing and anti-social behavior. Collars help alleviate problem behaviors triggered by travel, thunderstorms, fireworks and new social situations.”
The collar ingredients state pheromones (squalene) 6% and inert ingredients of 94%. There’s no mention of the lavender or chamomile so I called the company. They should be getting back to me in a day or two and I will update this post.
Once I hear from them, I might give the collar a try the next time I take Christy in the car. She doesn’t hate the car anymore but she sure doesn’t love it! If the collar could help her be more comfortable, that would be a good thing.
Please note that this post is about LAVENDER. There are other herbs, plants and oils that are detrimental and even deadly to cats. But remember, when you read that something is toxic, you really need more information than that.
Why the Concern Over Essential Oils?
Treating cats with essential oils is a totally different subject for another post, but I wanted to address, without going into detail, what the concern over essential oils is.
Essential oils are 500-2,000 times stronger than the flower or plant from which they came. A cat’s liver lacks the enzymes necessary to break down and excrete certain chemicals in many essential oils as well as other substances, like aspirin, and these chemicals can build up to a lethal level.
I want to leave you with this list from Optimum Choices of oils to definitely avoid around cats.
I’d love to know about your experiences with lavender. Do you use it around your cats? Do you use essential oils?
ASPCA – Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants: Lavender
Toxic Plants- What Does That Really Mean
University of Maryland Medical Center: Lavender
Is Lavender Poisonous to Cats?
Pet Aromatherapy And Essential Oils: What You Need To Know
JustAnswer.com Cat Veterinary
Forget Everything Bad You’ve Ever Been Told About Essential Oils for Pets