Basil is one of the most widely used herbs in the Mediterranean. Not only is it used in a variety of dishes, but it also has a long history of use in traditional medicinal practices. It is also relatively easy to grow, either in an outdoor garden or indoors in a pot. If you have cats and choose to grow basil indoors, or even outdoors, you may wonder if your cat can eat basil. Is it healthy for them? Can it be toxic? Let’s see what happens if your cat eats basil.

Is the basil plant safe for cats?

The smell of basil may intrigue your cat enough to make her taste a leaf or two. But don’t worry, basil is not toxic to cats.

Basil is actually the common name for “Ocimum Basilium” and is an herb belonging to the Lamiaceae family. Commonly known as the mint family, this family of plants also includes catnip, lavender, sage, rosemary, oregano, lemon balm and, obviously, mint. It should be noted that in most Western dishes, the term “basil” is commonly used to refer to sweet basil, also called Genovese basil.

Although there are many varieties of basil species, they all belong to the Lamiaceae family. You can also find basil listed as Tulsi (in Ayurvedic medicine) or St. Joseph’s wort.

So, could there be health benefits to consuming basil in cats?

Basil contains vitamin A, vitamin K, iron, manganese and calcium and is low in calories. It has been studied in humans for its use in maintaining stable blood glucose levels, boosting the immune system, reducing stress and anxiety, and aiding memory, but evidence for any of these claims is scant.

However, could basil have similar effects in cats? It should be noted that cats are obligate carnivores and require animal protein in their daily diet. People, even self-proclaimed “carnivores”, are actually omnivores. So our digestion works differently than a cat’s digestion. Cats may not digest basil the same way you or I would. This means that your cat may not be able to absorb the vitamins and minerals in basil in the same way as humans.

Possible health problems when feeding basil to your cat

Although basil itself is not toxic to cats, there are things to be aware of before giving it to your kitty or allowing her to ingest it on her own. As mentioned above, cats are obligate carnivores and require taurine from animal protein in their diet because they cannot synthesise it on their own. This means that cats do not necessarily require as many plants or vegetables in their diet as perhaps humans do.

A little nibble on a basil leaf here or there probably won’t skew your cat’s daily nutrition that much, but too much basil could cause an imbalance in their nutrition. If your cat eats too much basil, it can also cause gastrointestinal distress, including vomiting and diarrhoea. In rare cases, a cat may be allergic to basil and this may manifest as vomiting, but may also cause hives, swelling or even difficulty breathing. Basil essential oil is high in synthetic phenols, which can cause liver damage, so its use in cats should be avoided.

What kind of basil can cats eat?

There is really no single variety that a cat can and cannot eat. Fresh basil will have a less potent flavour and aroma than dried basil. Vitamins and minerals will also be present in smaller concentrations in fresh basil than in dried basil. So, although it has not been researched, it is possible that a cat’s daily nutrient balance may be thrown off more quickly with large amounts of dried basil compared to fresher basil.

Therefore, while it is safe for your cat to nibble on a basil leaf one day, it is probably best to avoid sharing this plant with your cat on a regular basis.

If you think your cat may have been poisoned by this or any other plant, come to our Hospital Veterinari Glòries in Barcelona and we will treat your companion as an emergency.