Is lavender toxic to cats?
Lavender is toxic to cats, the toxic principles are linalool and linalyl acetate which are phytochemicals (chemicals produced by plants) with a strong odour which may protect it from herbivores. Both linalool and linalyl acetate are found in essential oils, as well as many soaps, scented and beauty products.
Exposure to lavender essential oils can cause dermal and mouth irritation, central nervous system depression and ataxia (wobbly gait).
What is lavender?
Botanical name: Lavandula spp.
Common names: Lavender
Toxicity: Toxic to cats
Toxic parts: All parts are toxic
Severity: Mild to moderate
Toxic properties: Linalool and linalyl acetate
Lavender is a perennial flowering plant with 47 species that is native to the Meditteranean and Africa. It is widely grown throughout the world as both an attractive garden plant, as a food flavouring, scented products, beauty products and as an essential oil.
How does lavender toxicity occur?
Most cases of lavender toxicity are due to the use of lavender essential oils on or around the cat. Essential oils are concentrated compounds extracted from plants which are obtained through distillation or cold pressing. Lavender essential oil contains 100 compounds including linalyl acetate (51%) and linalool (35%) as well as lavandulol, geraniol, bornyl acetate, borneol, terpineol, and eucalyptol or lavandulyl acetate.
Essential oil toxicity can occur via inhalation, ingestion or dermal (skin) exposure and it is important for pet owners to understand that even natural products can be toxic to cats, particularly in their concentrated form.
Other essential oils which contain linalool include coriander, sweet basil, bergamot, clary sage, and ylang ylang. As little as 5 – 15mL is considered toxic to adults, and 2-3mL in children. It is easy to see how just a small amount of essential oils can easily be toxic to cats who are a fraction of our size.
Ingestion of plant material is unlikely to induce toxicity, however, products or foods with essential oils may be consumed by the cat or administered by the pet owner. Another potential mode of oral ingestion is when the fur is contaminated with lavender essential oil and the cat grooms.
Lavender essential oil is readily absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes. The liver is a large organ responsible for metabolism, however, cats have lost the ability to metabolise plant-based products effectively. This means that it takes considerably longer for the body to metabolise plant-based compounds than it would in a human or dog.
- Loss of appetite
- Central nervous system depression (lethargy, drowsiness)
- Ataxia (wobbly gait)
- Oral irritation
- Mouth ulcers
Dermal (skin) contact:
Skin contact can be accidental or when a pet owner uses a product which contains lavender essential oil.
The most common mode of inhalation is via oil burners or diffusers.
Asymptomatic cats who only ingested a small amount may only require monitoring either at home or in the veterinary hospital.
If the cat has had exposure to lavender essential oil seek the advice from your veterinarian or pet poison helpline. Treatment will depend on the amount of exposure and clinical signs.
- Gastric decontamination: If the cat has had recent exposure the veterinarian may induce vomiting to remove the substance from the gastrointestinal tract followed by administration of activated charcoal to prevent further absorption.
- Fluid therapy: To correct dehydration and increase urinary excretion of the toxin.
- Liver protestants: S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) and silymarin, an extract of milk thistle which acts as an anti-oxidant and free radical scavenger.
- Anti-nausea medication: Maropitant Citrate (Cerenia) to control nausea and vomiting.
Most lavender plants or cuttings should not be an issue to cats unless they have a serious obsession with them.
Do not administer lavender essential oils to a cat unless a veterinarian has instructed you to do so. Remember, anything which goes on the coat or skin will be licked off and ingested.
If you are using an oil burner or diffuser in the home, do so in a well-ventilated area and the cat should be able to leave the area if he or she chooses to do so.