Everyone knows how much cats love the smell of mint plants but have you considered how safe mint plants are for felines? If you’ve ever tried to shop for fresh mint at your local farmer’s market or plant nursery, you’ve probably noticed that there are many types of mint plants available. If you’re like me, you’ve gotten stuck in the herb aisle for quite a long time debating between peppermint, spearmint, and lemon mint, wondering which is the best choice!
When it comes to being a responsible pet owner, one of the most important responsibilities we have is to ensure that we are providing a healthy environment for our pets. This comes into play when selecting the plants that appear in the home garden…as some plants are toxic to our furry feline friends.
It was during one of those moments of deliberation in the herb aisle that I started wondering: “What mint plants are safe for cats?”
While many sources claim that catmint, also known as catmint, is a harmless plant for cats to interact with, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) lists catmint alongside garden mint in the list of plants that are toxic to cats. This is due to the powerful stimulating components that can cause cats to respond with vomiting and diarrhea.
Are you surprised? I definitely was!
And there were even more surprises in store with my research about mint plants. As it turns out, there are many varieties of mint plants, and most of them include a specific chemical component that can cause some unsafe responses in your cat’s behavior. While not all cats are affected the same, mint can trigger a wide range of side effects, and can even lead to mint poisoning—something all cat owners should be aware of.
Which Mint Plants Safe for Cats?
It’s an age-old adage: cats love catmint!
After all, the name itself, catmint, emphasizes this very point.
But is there any mint plant that is actually safe?
Labeling a plant ‘safe’ or ‘dangerous’ can be a bit challenging since lots of plants can trigger different responses depending on the cat’s specific tolerance or sensitivity. In many ways, mint presents this challenge.
But there’s another tricky element to be considered when categorizing the safety of mint plants: the abundance of names and classifications. First off, it’s important to recognize that there are many types of mint plants, and some common names even overlap across species.
Did you know that catmint and catnip are two names for the same plant species, which is recognized by its Latin-based scientific name Nepeta cataria? This very plant is also referred to as catswort and catwort in some areas. So if you’re trying to weed out the ‘safe’ mint plants from the ‘dangerous’ ones, it’s helpful to understand that there can be multiple names for a single mint species.
Within this very genus, there are many other types of mint plants, such as Blue Wonder catmint, Faassen’s catmint, and Persian catmint. While they may exhibit slight differences, these can all be categorized under the mint label known as nepeta cataria.
Many people believe that nepeta cataria, or catnip, is harmless for felines.
In fact, some cat owners vow that catnip is actually healthy for lethargic cats since it can stimulate movement, which can promote exercise. Catnip can be found in a variety of pet stores, too, so it’s not surprising that many people believe it to be harmless.
However, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) actually lists catnip as toxic to cats. This is a topic which is highly debated. Because the ASPCA is committed to preventing animal harm, you can safely assume that the organization would err on the side of caution.
When I saw catnip on this list of poisonous plants, I was curious about other types of mint, so I did some checking…
It turns out that another type of mint plant, known as garden mint, is also a no-no when it comes to felines. Garden mint is named on the ASPCA’s list of plants that are toxic to cats.
This is where things get tricky—garden mint has a number of other names that it commonly goes by. Spearmint, common mint, lamb mint, and mackerel mint are actually the same species as garden mint, whose Latin-based scientific name is mentha spicata.
So it turns out that both catmint and garden mint is toxic to cats, according to the ASPCA.
With that said, many cat owners have introduced catnip to their felines without any adverse effects. However, if you’re unsure of your cat’s sensitivity to catnip, you may want to consider catnip in the same ‘unsafe’ category as garden mint.
With each type of mint, there are particular risks that are possible. For this reason, there isn’t a single type of mint plant that can be fully categorized as ‘safe’ when it comes to cats.
How Do Mint Plants Affect Cats?
Mint plants can have a powerful hold on felines, which most likely contributed to the common connection between cats and catnip. The effects of mint plants on cats, however, can actually be quite scary.
It’s important to note that not all felines are affected the same way. Just as some humans can tolerate spicy food while others explode into reddened faces and watery eyes, felines respond differently to mint.
About 75% of cats will experience a reaction when exposed to mint, and this response is hereditary, meaning it gets passed on in the genes.
One reaction that can be caused by the scent of mint is extreme sedation. A cat may appear super sleepy, lethargic, and dazed. Many cat owners have even referred to their kitty as being ‘stoned,’ because of this noticeable shift in activity level and behavior.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, other cats respond to mint in a wildly different way. For these felines, mint performs like a stimulant, causing erratic, energized movement and frenzied behavior. A cat affected in this way may gallop around the room in a zig zag path, playfully attacking anything that shows the slightest movement.
As it goes, mint can have unexpected effects of felines, due to hereditary differences in the genes. Some cats are affected by mint plants, while some aren’t. Some cats appear sedated by mint, while some appear uncontrollably stimulated.
However, behavioral changes aren’t the only thing that can be triggered by mint plants. A cat’s health may be put at risk, too, which is why many pet organizations consider this plant to be toxic.
Why Are Mint Plants Considered Toxic?
If you cut your research short by just reading about the behavioral responses cats have towards mint, you may not think mint is so bad after all. However, there’s more to the story. As I found out, there’s a real health risk that causes mint to be considered toxic for cats.
When ingested, mint plants can cause vomiting and diarrhea in felines. In addition to being incredibly unpleasant and uncomfortable, vomiting and diarrhea are no laughing matter. In severe cases, they can lead a cat to dehydration and even death.
Possible Central Nervous System Damage
The toxicity of mint is also causing for concern for other reasons. A cat’s central nervous system can experience damage as a result of exposure to mint, compromising brain function and control of motor skills
Possible Long-Term Liver Damage
In addition, some sources even suggest that mint exposure can result in long-term liver damage. Unfortunately, liver damage is often irreversible.
These risks can be pinned down to one toxic principle that is found in catmint: Nepetalactone. This organic compound can be ingested through the air, meaning the scent of mint alone is enough to stir a reaction in cats.
What Is Mint Poisoning?
Because some cats can be negatively affected by the toxic elements naturally found in a variety of mint plants, veterinarians have established a specific diagnosis stemming from this exposure.
Mint poisoning is the official diagnosis for a cat that demonstrates the adverse side effects of mint exposure. Mint poisoning can be diagnosed by a veterinarian, but pet owners can be proactive in helping to identify a problem by closely monitoring the cat’s behavior, along with observing the environmental surroundings.
The common symptoms of mint poisoning include excessive vomiting and diarrhea, in addition to other gastrointestinal issues. Being aware of your cat’s potty habits and routines can definitely help you to identify if there is an underlying gastrointestinal issue causing suffering to your cat.
While prolonged exposure to mint can be the cause for mint poisoning, not all cats will develop mint poisoning upon exposure. Most cases of mint poisoning occur from ingesting large quantities of mint or being exposed to highly concentrated forms of mint, such as essential oils.
As a cat owner myself, I don’t think that experimenting with a mint of any kind is worth the risk. With mint poisoning lingering as a possible outcome, I won’t be exposing my cats to any mint.
How Can Cats Enjoy Mint Safely?
You should always keep in mind that the ASPCA has listed both garden mint and catnip as toxic plants for cats. With that said, not all cats will be adversely affected by catnip. Consult your veterinarian for the safety risks of exposing your specific feline to catnip.
If your vet determines that it is safe for your cat to play with catnip, then you should continue to take the proper precautions. As a responsible pet owner, you should always be in control of your cat’s environmental surroundings.
Never let your feline ingest a significant amount of catnip. Instead of presenting the catnip as a potted plant, consider letting your cat play with toys that have catnip securely hidden inside. This allows your cat to enjoy the smell of the plant without being tempted to consume it.
You may also want to explore alternative options at the pet store. Some cat toys feature artificial mint scents, which may be a safer option to consider if you simply can’t refuse providing your cat with a minty play toy.
Why Do Cats Love Mint?
About 75% of cats experience a great attraction to mint, stemming from the organic compound called Nepetalactone. This organic compound occurs naturally in catnip, and it can act as a stimulant or sedative, depending on the cat’s tolerance and sensitivity levels.
Is Peppermint Oil Safe for Cats?
Because essential oils feature highly concentrated substances, they are not recommended for use with cats. This includes peppermint oil and other mints that are presented in the form of essential oils.
Can Cats Eat Mint Plants?
Because mint is considered a toxic plant for the majority of cats, it is not recommended for cats to ingest any amount of mint. Consult your veterinarian if you’re curious about determining your cat’s specific hereditary tolerance to mint.
Which Mint Plants Are Toxic for Cats?
Garden mint and catmint are listed as toxic plants for cats, according to the Animal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Both garden mint and catmint go by a multitude of common names, including lamb mint, spearmint, catnip, and more.
ASPCA – Animal Poison Control (Toxic/Non Toxic Plants)
ASPCA – Animal Poison Control (Toxicity Value of Plants)
Metaphorical Platypus – Why Do Cats Go Crazy for CatNip?
The Nest – Peppermint Scent Affecting Cats
Wag Walking – Mint Poisoning in Cats
Scientific American – How Does Catnip Work?