The answer to the question is chamomile safe for cats is not straightforward.
On one hand, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), states that chamomile is toxic to both cats and dogs.
On another hand, books about herbs for pets indicate that chamomile has numerous health benefits and that it also is “one of the safest herbs inexistence”.
Is that confusing? For us it certainly is, so we decided to explore a little bit more to find the truth about chamomile and cats.
If you are also interested to find out more about chamomile effects on cats, let’s dive in.
Types of chamomile
The confusion about chamomile’s effects on cats may also come from the fact that there are dozens of different species of this plant and only two have been properly researched in terms of their medicinal benefits.
Most of the medicinal uses are isolated to two types of chamomile: German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).
Only these two species of chamomile were properly researched in relation to their medicinal use, so when buying a product with chamomile, make sure it states either of these types.
Why is chamomile toxic to cats?
According to ASPCA, chamomile is toxic to cats because it contains volatile oil; bisabolol, chamazulene, anthemic acid, and tannic acid.
In other words, the toxic substance in chamomile, similarly to lavender, is the essential oil (volatile oil) concentrated in the flowers.
On the other hand, the authors of Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Life, state, that chamomile is one of the safest herbs in the world. They warn, however, that some animals (and people too) may be extremely allergic to it.
They advise always checking if a cat is not allergic to chamomile, by applying a small amount of the preparation to the cat’s skin. If there is no bad reaction, then you can feed your cat a drop or two and watch for any changes.
If you are in doubt, always check with a vet if a homemade or commercial product with chamomile is safe for your cat or not.
Forms of chamomile dangerous to cats
Because the toxic substance in chamomile is the essential oil, then the concentrated forms of chamomile essential oil are dangerous to cats.
A cat could come in contact with concentrated essential oil when she eats the chamomile flowers directly from the plant, or when she digests the essential oil extracted from the plant.
Diluted chamomile essential given in small doses, should be relatively non-toxic to cats. Always check with your vet if the remedy that you want to give to your cat is safe.
How can a cat absorb chamomile?
A cat can absorb chamomile through digestion (oral intake), through the skin (topical intake), or through the lungs and blood (inhalation).
The most dangerous is when a cat consumes the concentrated form of chamomile essential oil, for example by eating the raw chamomile flowers. It’s safe for a cat to smell the chamomile flowers or rub the skin/coat against them.
If a diluted form of chamomile essential oil is digested, applied on the skin, or inhaled, in small quantities, then it shouldn’t be harmful to a cat.
Health benefits of chamomile
According to Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Life, chamomile has the following medicinal activities: “antispasmodic, expels intestinal gas, anti-inflammatory, sedative, antimicrobial, stimulates digestion (bitter), heals wounds, and expels worms”.
The part of chamomile used in the preparation of remedies is the flower. The chamomile flowers can be prepared in the following ways: water or oil infusion, tincture, salve, ointment, and fomentation.
1. Anxiety & stress
Chamomile is best known for its calming and relaxing properties. It can be used as a “first try” as a remedy for stress and anxiety-related problems before stronger treatments or sedatives are deployed.
Chamomile, in a form of tea or a tincture, is good for a digestive upset that is caused by nervousness, hyperexcitability, and digestive spasms.
Chamomile is good for the digestive tract and chronic or acute gastric disorders, because it helps to expel gas, aids the production of bile to improve digestion, and reduces inflammation.
Chamomile flowers infused in cooled water can serve as a soothing, and antimicrobial rinse for inflammations of the skin, including those caused by flea bites, contact allergies, and various bacterial or fungal infections.
A cooled infusion can also be used as an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial eyewash for conjunctivitis.
4. Expelling worms
Chamomile works well for getting rid of worms. It expells especially well roundworms and whipworms. Moreover, its anti-inflammatory properties help counteract the effect parasites often have on intestinal mucosa.
Chamomile is often overlooked for its worm-expelling activities because it works slower than other herbs, for example, wormwood, garlic, or black walnut hulls. However, chamomile is less toxic than the fast-working plants.
Symptoms of chamomile poisoning in a cat
ASPCA lists the following signs of chamomile poisoning in a cat: contact dermatitis, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, allergic reactions, and long-term use can lead to bleeding tendencies.
How to treat a cat poisoned with chamomile
If you see your cat nibbling a bit on chamomile flowers in your garden, don’t panic. It would need to take a large dose for your cat to get seriously ill. Observe your cat for any worrying signs.
However, if your cat indeed ate a large number of chamomile flowers, or gulped a lot of chamomile essential oil that you use for diffusing, then call a vet or ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) to get help immediately.
How to keep a cat safe from chamomile
To keep your cat safe from chamomile, simply keep the concentrated forms of chamomile essential oil away from your cat.
If you need to grow chamomile in your garden, try isolating this space so that your cat cannot easily reach and nimb on flowers.
Chamomile and Cats – FAQ
Below we answer some of the most common questions about chamomile and cats:
Is chamomile safe for cats to smell?
Although the chamomile essential oil is toxic to cats, it is relatively safe for your cat to smell a fresh camomile flower. Only a prolonged inhalation of concentrated chamomile essential oil could lead to toxicity in a cat.
What does chamomile tea do to cats?
Chamomile tea, which contains a diluted form of chamomile essential oil, has the same calming and anti-anxiety properties for cats as it has for humans.
Is chamomile calming for cats?
Yes, chamomile has calming, anti-stress, and anti-anxiety properties for cats. If you want to calm down your cat with chamomile, always do it with a diluted form of chamomile and in small doses.
Chamomile in a concentrated form of essential oil or giving your cat high doses of chamomile could lead to toxicity in your cat.
Sources used in this article:
Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Life, Mary L. Wulff, Greg L. Tilford, 2009
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