Nutrition

Can Cats Eat Lemongrass? Is It Toxic?

As pet owners, it's our responsibility to ensure our pet safety. Read on to find out if cats can eat lemongrass and if lemongrass essential oil is safe for cats.

Tara Maurer holding cat smiling

Last Updated: December 13, 2023 | 5 min read

Calico female kitty cat sharpening her teeth into lemongrass leaf

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Losing a beloved pet through accidental ingestion or exposure to something toxic is absolutely heart-wrenching. As pet owners, we must familiarize ourselves with foods that are toxic to our animal companions to keep them safe. Unassuming foods you may eat daily—such as grapes and garlic—are harmful when put in paw’s reach.

Lemongrass is an aromatic, tropical plant native to Southeast Asia. You may enjoy lemongrass in your favorite Thai cuisine, but it’s also used as a natural remedy for various ailments thanks to its antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. As a pet parent wanting the best for your feline, you may wonder, “Can cats eat lemongrass? Will they receive the same benefits as humans do?”

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there are 55 species of lemongrass in the genus Cymbopogon. Two, in particular, will be discussed: C. citratus, typically used for cooking, and C. flexuosus, used in aromatherapy and perfuming.

Is Lemongrass Toxic To Cats?

The American Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals (ASPCA) classifies lemongrass (C. citratus) as toxic to felines due to the cyanogenic glycosides and essential oils present in the plant. Ingesting this grassy plant isn’t lethal to your furry friend, but it may cause digestive upset if they consume too much.

A little nibble is unlikely to cause your cat any harm, but too much, and they may have an upset stomach. Eating lemongrass also increases the risk of intestinal blockage because your kitty may not be able to digest such a fibrous food.

What To Do If Your Cat Eats Lemongrass

If your kitty accidentally eats lemongrass, watch for changes in behavior, dining, and litter box habits. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, consult with your veterinarian.

Alternatively, contact your vet immediately if your cat consumes lemongrass essential oil. Depending on the purity of the oil and the amount consumed, your cat may experience various symptoms.

Symptoms of Lemongrass Poisoning In Felines

If your feline consumes a large amount of lemongrass plant, they may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Ataxia (wobbliness)
  • Bladder inflammation
  • Distended abdomen
  • Fever
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shock
  • Urine leakage
  • Vomiting

Is Lemongrass Essential Oil Safe Around Cats?

Lemongrass essential oil with lemongrass
Essential oils are volatile, organic constituents of plants that contribute to the plant’s distinct fragrance and taste.

Producers extract oils from plants via CO2 extraction, steam distillation, water distillation, solvent extraction, cold press extraction, and more. These oils are used for various purposes, including aromatherapy, herbal remedies, and personal care products. 

Essential oils are highly concentrated and can be dangerous to household pets, especially cats. Pure essential oils may be up to 100 times stronger than the oils in the plant itself. According to Enchanted Aromatics, an essential-oil producer located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2 pounds of eucalyptus is required to make 1/2 ounce of eucalyptus essential oil, 47 pounds of tea tree is needed to make ½ ounce of tea tree oil and a whopping 313 pounds of rose petals are used to create a ½ ounce of pure rose oil. (You’ll understand now why 100 percent rose oil costs significantly more than eucalyptus.) Indeed, according to essential oil producer Mountain Rose Herbs—founded by renowned herbalist Rosemary Gladstar—it takes 60 whole roses to produce a single drop of rose essential oil. 

Essential oils absorb orally, respiratorily, and transdermally (through the skin). It’s the liver’s job to metabolize these compounds. Because felines lack certain liver enzymes to metabolize and eliminate essential oils from their body easily, these concentrates can rise to toxic levels and become a health hazard. 

According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the following essential oils are poisonous to cats: cinnamon, citrus (d-limonene), clove, eucalyptus, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree, wintergreen, and ylang ylang. Symptoms will vary on exposure (diffusion, topical, or ingestion) and type of oil. Signs of essential oil poisoning in felines include ataxia (wobbliness), drooling, vomiting, low heart rate, low body temperature, respiratory distress, tremors, seizures, and liver failure. 

So does this mean that lemongrass (C. flexuosus) essential oil is safe for our furry friends? Not necessarily. Like all essential oils, lemongrass oil contains terpenes, phenols, and ketones. Your cat’s liver struggles to metabolize these chemicals, causing them to accumulate in the body and reach toxic levels. 

Those terpenes found at significant levels in lemongrass are neral, citral, geranyl acetate, geranial, and limonene. Do any of those sound familiar? Go back a paragraph, and you’ll see d-limonene listed under Pet Poison Control’s list of dangerous essential oils.

Despite this warning from the Pet Poison Helpline, the United States Environmental Protection Agency considers d-Limonene as low-toxicity to mammals, and products containing limonene are effective for flea and tick control on cats and dogs. One study using an insecticidal dip containing 78.2% d-limonene at a dilution of 1.5 ounces per gallon of water found no signs of toxicosis. It wasn’t until using five times the recommended concentration that symptoms arose: ataxia, hypersalivation, and muscle tremors.

This study reinforces the rule that essential oils should always be diluted and used in moderation. Never apply undiluted lemongrass essential oil to your feline’s fur or skin, which can be absorbed transdermally or orally during your kitty’s daily grooming. At 100 percent concentration, this is far too potent and may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and liver damage.

Avoid essential oil diffusion if your cat has respiratory or liver problems. Also, remember that cats’ noses have up to 200 million olfactory receptors, compared with humans, which contain about 5 million receptors, so they are much more sensitive to smells.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If your furbaby shows signs of lemongrass poisoning, the first step is to call the vet. Your vet will determine if your pet should be brought in for an examination or continue being monitored at home. Prepare to answer questions, such as how much and when your cat ingested the lemongrass. You will bring your cat in for diagnostic tests, such as bloodwork and urinalysis, if recommended. Your vet may also wish to order an ultrasound to check for intestinal blockage.

Treatment typically involves gastrointestinal decontamination. Veterinarians use various agents and methods depending on the substance and time of ingestion. You can learn more about decontamination via the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. If a blockage occurs, surgery may be required. The vet must monitor your cat’s liver function if they ingest the essential oil.

To help avoid significant vet bills in the event of an accident, consider purchasing pet insurance. Signing up when your pet is young and healthy can prevent pre-existing conditions from being excluded from coverage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Cats Like The Smell Of Lemongrass?

Cats are curious creatures, and your feline may enjoy smelling lemongrass. Lemongrass essential oil is popular in aromatherapy to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. Smelling lemongrass may have a calming effect on your kitty. Alternatively, many cats dislike citrus scents, and your cat may stay far away from this citrusy grass.

Why Does My Cat Like Eating Lemongrass?

If your pet craves lemongrass, they likely have a nutritional deficiency or illness. Consult with your veterinarian for additional guidance. Felines should not eat lemongrass in large quantities. Remove the lemongrass from their environment and avoid having it in your home.

What Grasses Are Safe For Cats?

There are many cat-friendly types of grass, including wheat, barley, and oat grasses. Chewing on grass can encourage mental and physical stimulation for your feline friend. These greens improve digestion, reduce hairball, and offer additional nutrients.

Final Thoughts

Can cats eat lemongrass? No, they shouldn’t. The ASPCA categorizes lemongrass as toxic to felines. Ingesting lemongrass is likely to cause GI problems. Keep your cat away from pure lemongrass essential oil. Essential oils and cats really don’t mix. You can view alternative natural remedies for stress, depression, and anxiety in our article on cat loneliness.

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