Is Basil Toxic to Cats? Our Veterinarian Explains

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  • Although there are many plants toxic to cats, basil is not one of them. Your kitty is safe to sniff, lick, rub, and sometimes chew or eat basil. The only exception may be basil as an essential oil. There are only a handful of essential oils that are safe for cats.

    What is a basil plant?

    Family Lamiaceae
    Botanical name Ocimum basilicum
    Common names Basil, Great basil, Common basil
    Plant type Herb
    Flower colour White
    Native to India
    Toxic property Non toxic
    Toxic parts


    Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a herb in the mint family. There are several varieties, the most common being sweet basil. Its dark green glossy leaves have a sweet, spicy flavor that is used in recipes worldwide.

    Basil is an annual, which means it will last for only one season. You can, however, move an outdoor plant to a sunny windowsill inside, so it can survive the winter and be planted again the following year.

    Is the basil plant poisonous to cats?
    Is Basil Toxic to Cats?

    As a matter of fact, basil is one of the most widely grown herbs that is actually safe for cats. Others include: catnip, valerian, cat thyme, witch hazel, Echinacea, dandelion root, and cilantro.

    What happens if a cat eats a basil plant?

    Cats love the chewy leaves of the basil plant and will generally suffer no harm should they ingest a bit. Too much basil, however, can cause digestive upsets such as vomiting or diarrhea.

    In rare cases, a cat may be allergic to basil.

    What happens if a cat touches a basil plant?

    Touching a basil plant is of no consequence to a feline. They may discover the scent and rub against the plant before taking a nibble.

    Are basil leaves poisonous to cats and dogs? 

    Basil is non-toxic for both cats and dogs. The pungent aroma tends to attract felines, however, it repels dogs. Ironically, while it has no health benefits for cats, it provides vitamins and minerals that act as antivirals, antioxidants, and antimicrobials for your dog.

    Is basil good for cats?

    As carnivores, cats need the largest percentage of a meal to be meat. They can also consume some fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Although basil is a safe herb, it has no nutritional value for our feline friends. The biggest benefit for your cat is simply the enjoyment of chewing it.

    Would my cat actually eat a basil plant if I had it at home?

    Some cats will eat basil and others will leave it alone. It depends on your unique feline—what their preferences are, whether or not they are hungry or bored, etc. Knowing that it won’t hurt them is a comfort, but beware that your cat is not eating too much or too often. Those habits will likely cause some sort of stomach distress.

    Do cats like the smell of basil?

    A cat’s sense of smell is second only to a canine’s. Your kitty uses their nose to identify and remember people and places, and if you’ve got a basil plant, they will sniff it out!

    Are cats attracted to basil the same way that they are attracted to catnip?

    Cats are attracted to basil just as they are attracted to catnip. Basil has a somewhat pungent odor, just like catnip. They are both members of the mint family of plants, so many cats love the smell of both. Catnip can either calm or rouse a cat, while basil has more of a calming effect.

    Would my cat need emergency veterinary help if they ate a basil plant?

    A little bit of basil will not hurt a cat. A lot of basil may cause digestive issues and depending on how bad they are, veterinary help may be necessary. If a cat is vomiting and has diarrhea for any length of time, dehydration becomes a concern and a vet should be seen.

    Although it is very rare, some cats may have an allergic reaction to basil. It would most likely manifest itself in a rash, either localized to one area or a general overall reaction. This, too, calls for a visit to the vet. It becomes urgent if your cat is sneezing, coughing, or has swelling, particularly on their face.

    An allergic reaction can also involve a cat’s respiratory system. If you find your cat panting or struggling to breathe, it is a veterinary emergency.

    How much would a cat need to eat to experience serious issues?

    Basil, in small quantities, will not hurt your cat, and a healthy cat would most likely not take more than a nibble. If your cat consumes a lot of basil (or any grass material), it’s best to have a vet check them out. Cats are meat eaters, and eating too much grain is a sign that something is bothering them.

    What should I do if my cat eats a basil plant?

    If you see your cat eating basil, it’s best to keep an eye on them. Chances are that your cat will be fine, but watch for any signs of distress, both immediately and over the next few days. As long as they are eating and drinking normally, using the litter pan, and are acting normal, the basil will flush through their system. If there are any signs of distress or allergy, call your vet right away.

    Of course if your cat has a problem with basil, or you don’t want them to eat it, you’ll need to move it out of reach or get rid of it.

    Signs you need to see the vet / How can the vet help?

    As discussed above, you need to see the vet if there is anything out of the ordinary with your cat.

    It should also be noted that basil as an essential oil may be toxic to cats. Essential oils, in general, are questionable. It’s advisable to speak to your vet on this topic.


    Most felines will not have an issue with basil. The few that do end up with a stomachache may refuse food temporarily. If it lasts longer than 48 hours, you’ll need to see a vet to get your cat eating again.

    Both digestive problems and rashes may require medication, but the prognosis is excellent.

    Respiratory distress is an emergency, but the prognosis is still good as long as you get your cat to the vet right away.

    The bottom line: should I keep my basil plants if they are poisonous? Is there really a risk?

    In general, basil is not poisonous. There are always cases where problems can arise, most likely digestive. If a basil plant causes you concern, get rid of it. It is truly not worth worrying about. Your cat won’t know the difference and although it won’t be as fresh, they do sell basil in a jar!