Certain herbs, such as pennyroyal, evening primrose, borage, eucalyptus, and comfrey, are herbs toxic to cats. Catnip, ginger, chamomile, calendula, echinacea, and slippery elm bark, however, are safe herbs for cats and may actually be beneficial for helping your cat with various ailments.
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Herbs come in many forms, such as tinctures, capsules, ointments, and teas. They can be obtained from a holistic vet, some pet stores, and natural health stores.
Consult with your veterinarian
While some herbs are generally considered safe for cats, it is critical that you consult your veterinarian before giving any herb to your cat. Be sure to tell your veterinarian about all of the prescription medications, vitamins, supplements, and herbs your cat is taking. Herbs can interact with medications, supplements, and other herbs. Follow your veterinarian's dosing instructions carefully; his or her instructions may differ from those given on a bottle's label.
Ginger for stomach upset
Ginger is a tropical plant; its root is utilized in both Western herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. Ginger is best known for its ability to calm digestive upset. It is often used as an anti-nausea or anti-vomiting supplement. Ginger has also been used as a circulatory stimulant, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and for cognitive support.
According to VCA Animal Hospitals, limited studies have been done on the effectiveness of ginger in cats. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that ginger is effective for treating nausea and vomiting in cats.
You can give ginger to cats orally with a capsule, powder, tablet, tincture, or liquid. You can give ginger with or without food. If your cat vomits after getting ginger on an empty stomach, try giving it with a little food the next time. Ginger can be applied to your cat's skin topically as an oil, salve, or cream.
Caution when using ginger for cats
VCA Animal Hospitals state that because there are limited studies on ginger in cats, information about possible side effects is limited. Ginger is generally considered to be safe with few side effects. Skin redness, hives, or itchiness may be an indication of an allergic reaction to ginger when it is applied topically to the skin. Though they are uncommon, side effects to ginger given orally include gas, stomach pain, diarrhea, and heartburn. But of course, it's hard to know if your cat is experiencing heartburn! Keep an eye out for unusual symptoms or behavior.
You should not give ginger to any cat who has a bleeding disorder or a known allergy to the herb. Use ginger cautiously with cats who have gallbladder disease or are pregnant or nursing. You should also use ginger cautiously with cats who are taking nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or anti-coagulants.
Chamomile decreases anxiety and inflammation
Chamomile has been used for cats as a sedative, to relieve anxiety, as an anti-inflammatory, and as a muscle relaxer. Chamomile has been used internally to treat inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and stomach ulcers, and topically to soothe inflamed skin. Though studies are limited, VCA Animal Hospitals asserts there is anecdotal evidence indicating that chamomile is effective for treating gastrointestinal diseases and inflammation in cats.
Precautions for using chamomile
According to VCA Animal Hospitals, studies indicate that in rare cases, cats may experience diarrhea, vomiting, skin irritation, or an allergic reaction to chamomile given orally or applied topically. You should not give chamomile to cats who are allergic to any flower in the daisy family.
You should use chamomile with caution in pregnant or nursing cats as well as those who are very young, sick, or debilitated. You should also use chamomile with caution in cats who take nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), sedatives, or warfarin. Never give your cat more chamomile than your veterinarian prescribes, as chamomile can be a toxic herb to cats in high doses.
Catnip: the happy cat herb
Most cat owners are familiar with catnip and its well-known ability to make cats "high." When inhaled, catnip acts as a stimulant, but if ingested, catnip is a sedative. According to the Humane Society of the United States, only about 50 percent of cats respond to catnip. The herb contains the volatile oil nepetalactone. There is no set dosage for catnip. While cats are not likely to overdose on catnip, limit how much you give your cat as he or she can get sick if they eat too much of it.
Milk thistle as an anti-inflammatory
Milk thistle has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Research indicates milk thistle may be beneficial for treating liver conditions, bowel disorders, and kidney damage resulting from diabetes. The herb may also be helpful in the treatment of insulin-resistant diabetes and cancer, according to VCA Animal Hospitals.
Precautions when using milk thistle
VCA Animal Hospitals asserts that milk thistle is generally safe and well-tolerated in animals. Side effects are typically mild and may include diarrhea and digestive upset. Caution should be used when giving milk thistle to pregnant cats.
Slippery elm for stomach upset
According to VCA Animal Hospitals, anecdotal evidence indicates slippery elm is effective for treating stomach upset and inflammation. You can give slippery elm orally through a capsule, liquid, powder, or tablet.
There are no known side effects of slippery elm. However, VCA Animal Hospitals recommends not giving this herb to pregnant or nursing cats as its safety has not been evaluated in these populations. Additionally, slippery elm should not be given within two hours of any other medications as their absorption may be affected.
Echinacea reduces inflammation
Echinacea is primarily used to shorten the duration of upper respiratory infections (URIs), as an anti-inflammatory, or to boost the immune system. There are actually different forms of echinacea, and some products are a mixture of these different forms. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the most beneficial blends seem to contain cichoric acid, alkylamides, and polysaccharides.
Echinacea is generally considered to be one of the safe herbs for cats. Side effects don't often occur, but the herb can cause digestive upset, including diarrhea and vomiting. Use caution when giving echinacea to cats with an autoimmune disease and with pregnant or nursing cats. Use caution when giving this herb to cats taking antidepressant medication.
Calendula helps wounds heal faster
Calendula can be applied topically to the skin to help wounds heal faster. VCA Animal Hospitals asserts that research indicates calendula also promotes fast healing from gastric ulcers.
Calendula is considered to be a safe herb for cats. However, the herb should not be given to pregnant cats because calendula can cause uterine contractions. Though uncommon, some pets may have an allergic reaction to calendula. Signs of an allergic reaction include skin redness and itching. If you notice these symptoms after giving your cat calendula, discontinue its use.