Burning sage — or smudging — is a traditional Native American ritual to protect against hostile energies. Other benefits to smudging are believed to be increased cognition, better mood, and higher energy levels. Reduced stress and better sleep are also on this list, but dissipating negative energies is the primary purpose of a smudging ceremony.
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Sage and cats is not a toxic combination. Sage is also not toxic to cats if ingested in small quantities (unlike other herbs toxic to cats). In the garden, sage is safe for cats, so plant it without concern. Similarly, the smoke from burning sage is not more harmful than burning a candle or incense, but cats with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, might find the smoke irritating. You also need to be wary of a curious cat singing its paws or batting burning sage out of its container. You need to monitor sage and cats together.
How to burn sage near cats
Sage is burned loose in a fireproof bowl or tied in a bundle. Ignite the sage then blow it out to release its incensed smoke. Hold the burning sage over a burn bowl to catch embers. Slowly wave the burning sage around the room. When doing a smudging ceremony, you'll open windows and doors to let negative energy out as the sage's negative ions uplift the mood in the room.
If burning sage for the pleasant smell alone, keep in mind that without circulation such as an open window, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — chemicals that are harmful to health — can rise to levels similar to those in the home of a smoker. This can result in cats suffering respiratory irritation, especially if they have pre-existing conditions such as asthma or bronchitis.
If your cat starts to sneeze or has watery eyes, immediately move the cat to another well-ventilated room when you are burning sage. A cat's upper-respiratory track is more sensitive than humans, so it's best they are not near smoke. If you keep your cat in the room with you, keep a careful eye on the sage to make sure your cat's curiosity doesn't result in singed paws from hot embers getting knocked out of the burn bowl.
Herbs toxic to cats
Sage is nontoxic to cats, so don't worry if your kitty nibbles a few leaves while you're setting up. However, that is not true of all herbs used for similar purposes — and anything eaten in large enough quantities can be harmful. However, essential oils, even sage oil, is very dangerous for cats because they can not tolerate ketones and phenols in these products. In extreme cases, liver failure can result.
Other herbs toxic to cats include chives, garlic, St. John's wort, chamomile, cannabis, and lemon grass. According to the ASPCA, plants considered 'non-toxic' can still cause gastrointestinal upset and vomiting but not a condition that is life-threatening.
If you suspect your pet ingested a toxic plant, contact your veterinarian immediately. Even 'non-toxic' plants can cause problems for some animals.