There are many varieties of mint, including catnip and catmint. While these are safe options for your kitty, garden mint – the one we cultivate for our own uses – is not safe. Even though there’s nothing like the freshness you get from a stick of minty gum, you should NOT give mint to your cat. You’ll also want to keep your mint plants out of reach of curious teeth and tongues.
Are All Types of Mint Bad for Cats?
Mint encompasses a large family of herbs, with some that are grown for flavoring, essential oils, aromatherapy, and even insecticides. Some types of mint are even grown for your cat’s enjoyment.
With many varieties available, it’s important to know which ones are in your home or garden to keep your feline friend safe. Mint plants have oval-shaped leaves that are wrinkly appearing and flowers that cluster together on a stalk. These flowers can be white or varying shades of lavender, depending on the species. Most of the time, mint grows low to the ground, but sometimes it can reach up to three feet high in the wild.
Catmint and catnip are members of the mint family that are cat friendly. Not only are they non-toxic, but cats will also seek them out.
However, garden mint, the most commonly grown type of mint, is toxic to cats.
Why is Mint Toxic to Cats?
What makes mint unsafe for your cat to eat is the same thing that makes it desirable to some humans. It contains essential oils that can cause irritation to the stomach leading to vomiting and diarrhea. In some cases, they can also contribute to the relaxation of the esophageal valve (the doorway to the stomach if you will), which can increase the severity of vomiting.
Certain mint species, mainly pennyroyal, can cause more severe and lasting effects, including liver damage.
The types of essential oils present in catmint and catnip don’t seem to cause as much irritation when ingested by cats, and therefore, is a safe option for them.
What are the Signs of Mint Toxicity in Cats?
Fortunately, mint toxicity is rare in cats. This is mainly because a kitty would need to eat a great deal of it to do any harm. There is also no guarantee that mint will affect each cat in the same way. Some may have trouble with just a few bites, while others may be fine nibbling away at what seems like the entire plant. Just in case your cat is a frequent mint grazer, here are the signs to watch out for:
- Decreased appetite
In more severe cases:
Mint toxicity can occur after ingestion of wild or cultivated mint, indoors or out.
What To Do If Your Cat Has Mint Toxicity
Most of the time, when a cat eats mint, no treatment is required. Mild cases of vomiting and diarrhea will usually clear up on their own within a day or two. However, in cases of severe reactions, veterinary assistance may be required.
If large amounts of mint or a high-toxicity species, like pennyroyal, are eaten, your veterinarian may induce vomiting, if within a couple of hours of ingestion. Or they may decide to go the route of gastric lavage to empty the stomach of its offending contents. Kitties will be provided with supportive care, such as fluids, anti-vomit, and anti-diarrheal medications.
Mint essential oils should not be used on your cat for any reason unless prescribed by a veterinarian. The chance of them licking the oils off their skin is usually not worth the benefit they may provide.
Can Cats Have Mint Flavored Foods?
Whether or not your cat has access to mint plants, the idea of sharing a mint-flavored treat with them may have crossed your mind. After all, mint is refreshing, cooling, and tastes great, but your cat should still not partake.
Not only do you have to worry about the essential oils found in mint, but you also have to worry about other ingredients that could be harmful. The sweetener xylitol tops the list as it is very toxic to animals and can be found in many products, including gum and candies. It’s also important to remember that cats can’t taste sweet, so chances are they’ll appreciate the gesture more than the actual treats.
For most of us, our feline friends are considered part of the family, and we want to share the things we love with them. While sharing is caring, it’s always more important to keep your kitty safe. Having mint plants, mint extract, or mint essential oils around should be treated with precaution to ensure that your cat doesn’t come in contact with them. If you would still like to plant some cat-friendly herbs, look into catnip or catmint as an alternative to garden mint and other varieties.
Dr. Chyrle Bonk has been practicing veterinary medicine since 2010. She lives in Idaho with her husband and two sons, where they spend their free time exploring the great outdoors that is right in their backyard.