Can Cats Eat Basil? Is Basil Safe For Cats?

Russell Cargill

Basil, sometimes referred to as sweet basil, is a herb that is a member of the mint family and native to India. However, basil is grown worldwide and heavily used in the culinary arts. There are plenty of human foods cats shouldn’t eat, so is basil one of them or can cats eat basil? it’s an important question to ask.

We know basil is healthy for human consumption, as it contains antioxidants, lutein, beta-carotene, and other minerals but can cats benefit from eating basil?

Let’s take a closer look.

can cats eat basil

Can Cats Eat Basil? 

Basil’s not considered poisonous or toxic for cats and it’s safe for them to consume, although it’s worth noting that most felines find it rather unappealing. Whether it’s fresh leaves from the basil plant in your herb garden, store-bought leaves that are ground up, or even cooked leaves, basil presents no harm to your four-legged friend.

Basil’s an excellent source of both calcium and vitamin A. Wild cats get calcium nutrients from feeding on the bones of their prey. Obviously, domesticated felines don’t get calcium the same way, which makes basil a good substitute. Vitamin A helps keep the cat’s vision and immunity system in good health.

Basil is also known to be an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety herb. Lethargic, depressed, or obese cats can benefit from ingesting this human food, as it helps to snap them out of a rut and become more social.

A side benefit of basil is the oil from its leaves, which can be used on their skin/fur in small doses to repel insects such as ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas. These low doses of basil oil won’t harm your cat if they decide to lick it off.

Is Basil Toxic For Cats?

Basil is not considered toxic for cats but, you shouldn’t feed them excessive amounts. Cats have a digestive system that’s designed for animal protein, rather than plants. However, cats enjoy exploring a garden and chewing on grass and leaves.

If your cat does have this habit make sure you never let them eat your tomato plants. They are extremely toxic to cats.

Most cats will end up regurgitating too much plant material because it simply doesn’t agree with their system. But in measured doses, like most nontoxic plants, basil is safe for your cat.

Though they won’t get all the health benefits from it that humans do, cats will still be able to absorb the nutrients and vitamins from basil.

However, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t give your cat basil essential oil. In this form, the oil is high in salicylates and phenols. A cat’s liver can’t metabolize the oil, which makes it very dangerous for them to ingest.

Why Do Cats Eat Basil?

The smell and taste of basil is something cats might enjoy, and it can also help soothe their stomach if they feel under the weather. A cat’s interest in eating basil can also be simple curiosity or the novelty of trying something new.

What Will Happen If Your Cat Eats Basil?

You can rest assured that basil presents no major harm or digestive issues to your cat. Basil can be given as a treat but it’s important to remember it offers very little nutritional benefit to them. It should never be given with the intention of replacing the nutrients afforded from a steady cat food diet.

Cats can feel the effects of too much of a good thing, so giving them a small, safe amount of basil is recommended. Even if your cat does enjoy basil, it likely won’t be gorging on it in a single sitting.

Symptoms Of An Allergic Reaction To Basil

Some cats can experience allergic reactions after eating basil, although this is pretty rare. If your cat exhibits allergy symptoms, you should stop feeding them any more basil and contact your vet. The symptoms below will likely clear up on their own but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. 

  • Respiratory Issues 
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Discharge

Herbs Safe For Cats To Eat

Basil isn’t the only herb that your cat can eat. Here’s a shortlist of additional herbs that are safe for cats:

  • Catnip: Probably the most popular herb for cats, catnip is similar to Valerian root in that it drives them wild. Catnip’s part of the mint family and contains nepetalactone, the essential oil that gives cats a euphoric feeling when they smell it. While inhaling catnip will give them energy, boost their mood, and make them more playful, eating catnip will mellow them out.
  • Kale: Kale is safe for cats to eat, but only in small doses. It’s very high in fiber, which is good for their digestive system, but it may leave them feeling ill if they eat too much. Cats can also develop Heinz body anemia from excessive amounts of kale. This is a treatable condition but will leave them feeling weak due to a low red blood cell count.
  • Rosemary: Another safe herb for your cat that provides a decent amount of vitamins (A and C), and minerals (folate and calcium), is rosemary. However, it should be noted that too much can cause an upset stomach due to the oils contained in the herb.
  • Thyme: Thyme is considered non-toxic for cats, and the oil from the herb (thymol) can help inhibit the growth of fungus and bacteria. Thyme is also rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and manganese. Like all other herbs though, too much can cause an upset stomach, so be mindful of only feeding them small amounts.

Keep in mind that not all herbs should be consumed by your cat. Garlic, chives, bay leaf, and oregano are all toxic to felines. For this reason, you should never blindly feed herbs to your cat, no matter how “natural” they are.

Conclusion On Can Cats Eat Basil

To wrap things up, basil is a safe, non-toxic herb that your cat can eat. As long as you aren’t overfeeding them, and remember to keep an eye out for any potential reactions, it’s a treat that can be indulged in every now and then.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Identify Basil

Basil comes in various forms (ie. lemon basil, African blue basil, holy basil, Thai basil, etc.), but they all share the same oval shape and tapered tip. The main differences you’ll find are in the size and color of the leaves.

Do cats like the smell of basil?

Cats love the smell of fresh basil. The plant emits a strong aroma which piques the cat’s curiosity, and like catnip, basil has a similar activation effect on them.

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