Is Rosemary Safe For Cats?

Did your cat get into the rosemary shrub? Don't worry—rosemary isn't toxic to cats. Your feline can safely consume rosemary in its fresh or dry form; however, you should use caution when using rosemary essential oil around your pet.

Tara Maurer holding cat smiling

Last Updated: December 5, 2023 | 5 min read

Cat sniffing a rosemary plant on a balcony.

Food Safety Disclaimer: The information published on this website is for reference only. The only clear option for ensuring your pet’s health is to feed commercial-grade cat foods and treats only. Feeding human foods of any sort carries some degree of risk and is not under this website’s control.

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Rosemary is a perennial shrub with fragrant, needle-like leaves and blue, purple, or pink flowers. This aromatic herb has been used traditionally in both culinary arts and herbal medicine. You can use fresh or dried herb to flavor a soup, roasted veggies, or salad. Clinical studies of rosemary and its active constituents show its positive effects on anxiety, mood, memory, and sleep. Rosemary is also used in soap and skincare products for its aromatic scent and antibacterial activity. It’s even a possible topical remedy for hair loss.

With all of rosemary’s applications, you likely have some form of the plant around your home. But for those with companion pets, it’s our responsibility to keep our furry friends away from potential health hazards. This raises the question: Is rosemary safe for cats?

In its whole form, rosemary is safe for cats, which means a nibble on a rosemary sprig isn’t poisonous. Rosemary extract is also safe for cats and is even used as a food additive in pet food. The use of rosemary becomes murky when it’s an essential oil. You should never apply rosemary essential oil directly to your cat’s skin, and you should proceed with caution when diffusing this concentrated oil around your pet.

Is Rosemary Toxic For Cats?

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), rosemary is non-toxic to cats. The fresh or dried rosemary leaf is not poisonous to felines. So, if your kitty sneaks a rosemary-seasoned bite of your mashed potatoes, don’t panic.

Due to its antioxidant activity, rosemary is even used as a recipe additive for cats and dogs. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recognize rosemary extract as a safe feed additive.

Rosemary is a popular natural flea repellent and deodorizer. You can find it in pet shampoos and flea & tick products (you can also decoct a DIY extract by boiling a pot of water with a twig of rosemary). The diluted essential oil has been shown to inhibit fungal activity in cats and dogs.

Still, there’s much information online about rosemary safety and use. Rosemary has become a dividing topic in the pet industry, with some saying that rosemary isn’t safe for our furry friends. The issue lies in the form the rosemary takes. Whole or dried rosemary and even rosemary extract are perfectly safe. The problem lies in the use of undiluted essential oils.

You should never use 100 percent pure essential oils on your pet. All essential oils are dangerous for cats because they lack an important detoxification mechanism called glucuronidation, which is present in humans and other animals. This limits their ability to process some of the components in essential oils, which can then concentrate in the liver and cause damage. While rosemary essential oil is not on the Pet Poison Helpline’s list of concerning essential oils, it should always be used cautiously with cats.

Can Cats Eat Rosemary?

A gray tabby cat inspecting a sprig of fresh rosemary.

Yes, our feline friends can eat rosemary. You can even find rosemary extract in pet food, functioning as a natural preservative and antioxidant. Rosemary also promotes healthy digestion, supports the immune system, and helps fight off harmful bacteria in your pet’s gut.

Rosemary extract has a different molecular structure than essential oil, so it is safe for consumption. The extract is made when rosemary leaves are soaked in a compound that separates the active ingredients from the actual plant matter. This process produces a low solution concentration. In contrast, essential oils are produced using heat and steam. This process makes them highly concentrated and unsafe for ingestion by humans or pets.

How To Feed Rosemary To Cats

Do you want to feed your cat rosemary? Try finely chopping it up a small amount and adding it to your feline’s existing food. Rosemary may positively affect your cat’s digestion, coat, and skin. It may also address inflammation issues.

You can also purchase a pet recipe or treat that already includes rosemary. For example, Rachael Ray Nutrish cat food uses rosemary as a taste enhancer in some recipes. For treats, Applaws Natural Cat Food makes a whole chicken filet with rosemary that gets fantastic reviews from kitty parents.

Is Rosemary Essential Oil Safe For Cats?

Essential oils are aromatic liquids containing volatile chemical compounds from plants. They are often used for their therapeutic benefits. For example, many people use essential oils in aromatherapy to relieve various physical and physiological ailments.

Essential oils are highly concentrated, so you should always use them in moderation. These oils may be up to 100 times stronger than the plant itself. It takes 250 pounds of raw material to make 1 pound (16 ounces) of rosemary essential oil.

In the case of humans and animals like dogs and horses, when the body absorbs an essential oil via inhalation or skin absorption, the oils move through the bloodstream and get processed in the liver. Their by-products, called metabolites, are flushed out through feces and urine. Cats are unique because they don’t have glucuronyl transferase, the liver enzyme necessary to break down said compounds. Since the feline system cannot metabolize these compounds, they can pile up in the cat’s liver over time and cause liver damage and other related toxicity problems.

Never let your feline ingest rosemary essential oils. It is too concentrated and may cause essential oil poisoning if ingested or applied topically in its undiluted form.

Symptoms Of Essential Oil Poisoning In Cats

Cats are more vulnerable to the misuse of essential oils than other animals. If you’ve used rosemary essential oil on or near your pet and see signs that they are feeling ill, contact your vet immediately.

Symptoms of essential oil poisoning in felines include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty walking
  • Drooling
  • Pawing or rubbing the face
  • Redness in the mouth or gums
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness or lethargy

No research determines toxic levels of essential oils; some felines may be more sensitive to essential oils than others.

Can I Use Rosemary Essential Oil On My Cat?

Yes, you can use rosemary essential oil topically on your cat; however, it must always be diluted. Always, always, always dilute oils before using them on small animals. If applied directly, rosemary essential oil can cause skin irritation and more severe problems.

Follow these general guidelines when using rosemary essential oil on your pet:

  • Use essential oils in moderation.
  • Always dilute rosemary essential oil with a carrier oil, such as fractionated coconut oil.
  • Never use essential oils on or near your pet’s eyes, nose, paws, or genitals.
  • Discontinue use if your pet shows adverse effects (biting, drooling, etc.)

Can I Diffuse Rosemary Around My Cat?

Cats may react differently to essential oils than humans, but that doesn’t mean you must return your diffuser and eliminate essential oils from the home. If you choose to diffuse rosemary essential oil around your feline, ensure they can roam freely while the oil defuses. Never lock your cat in a room while the diffuser is running. If your furry friend dislikes the scent or it irritates their respiratory system, they will move to another room.

Stop distillation immediately if your pet shows respiratory distress, including labored breathing, panting, and fainting. If your cat displays any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some popular questions regarding cats and herbs. Don’t see yours? Ask us in the comments.

What Other Herbs Are Safe For Cats?

Other cat-safe herbs include:

In contrast, popular herbs that are toxic to cats include garlic, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and onion.

What Essential Oils Are Dangerous For Cats?

It is up to you to use discretion when using essential oils on or around your cat. Any essential oil can post a health risk to cats when used in error or excess. That being said, some essential oils should be avoided both topically and internally with cats:

  • Camphor oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Citrus oil
  • Clove oil
  • Oregano oil
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Sweet birch oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Wintergreen oil
  • Ylang ylang oil

Other Cat-Safe Human Foods

Now that you’ve learned about rosemary, you may be curious about other human foods cats can eat. While nothing substitutes for quality cat food, a bite of cat-safe human food can help deepen the bond between you and your pet. You can also use it as a training tool or a high-value reward.

Before giving your pet human food, consider purchasing pet insurance to help pay for unexpected medical care. While we do our best to protect our furry friends from injury, accidents happen. If your pet gets into a toxic-to-cats food, insurance can protect you from a large medical bill for this necessary care.

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