Mint is a popular herb that has many uses in cooking, medicine, and cosmetics. But can cats eat mint? Is it safe or harmful for them? In this article, we will explore the effects of mint on cats, the health benefits and risks of cats eating mint, and the types of mint that are cat-safe.
Can Cats Eat Mint?
The answer to this question is not straightforward. Mint is a broad term that covers many different plants in the genus Mentha, such as peppermint, spearmint, lemon mint, and chocolate mint. Some of these plants contain essential oils that are toxic to cats, while others are harmless or even beneficial.
According to the ASPCA, mint plants are toxic to cats and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, oral ulceration, and liver failure if ingested in large amounts. However, the toxicity level depends on the type and amount of mint, as well as the cat’s age, health, and sensitivity.
Some cats may also have allergic reactions to mint, such as sneezing, itching, or swelling. Therefore, it is advisable to keep mint plants out of reach of cats and avoid giving them mint products that contain artificial flavors, sweeteners, or other harmful ingredients.
Health Benefits of Cats Eating Mint
Not all mint plants are bad for cats. In fact, some mint plants can have positive effects on cats’ health and behavior – but you have to know which ones are safe. For example:
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a type of mint that is well-known for its ability to attract and stimulate cats. Catnip contains a chemical called nepetalactone that binds to the cat’s olfactory receptors and triggers a euphoric response. Catnip can help cats relieve stress, anxiety, boredom, and aggression. It can also act as a mild sedative when ingested.
- Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii) is a hybrid of catnip and another mint species. It has similar effects as catnip but is less potent. Catmint can also repel insects and rodents.
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is another type of mint that has a lemony scent and flavor. Lemon balm can help cats with digestive problems, such as gas, bloating, or nausea. It can also calm nervous or restless cats.
- Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. Peppermint has a strong menthol aroma and taste that can freshen the cat’s breath and stimulate the appetite. Peppermint can also soothe minor skin irritations and wounds.
Should I Give My Cat Mint?
If you want to give your cat mint, you should first consult your veterinarian and make sure that the mint plant or product is safe for your cat. You should also follow these tips:
- Choose organic or homegrown mint that is free of pesticides or fertilizers.
- Wash the mint leaves thoroughly before giving them to your cat.
- Give your cat only a small amount of mint at a time and observe how they react.
- Do not force your cat to eat or smell mint if they are not interested or show signs of discomfort.
- Store the mint in a sealed container away from direct sunlight and heat.
Why Are Cats Attracted to Mint?
Cats are attracted to mint because of their natural curiosity and sense of smell. Cats have about 200 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to humans, who have only 5 million. This means that cats can detect even the slightest scent in the air.
Mint plants have a strong and pleasant aroma that can stimulate the cat’s olfactory system and trigger various responses. Some cats may be drawn to the smell of mint and try to nibble on it or roll on it. Other cats may be repelled by the smell of mint and avoid it.
The attraction or aversion to mint may also depend on the cat’s personality, mood, and genetics. Some cats may have inherited a gene that makes them more sensitive to nepetalactone, the active ingredient in catnip. Other cats may have learned to associate mint with positive or negative experiences.
Can Mint Cause Health Problems in Cats?
As mentioned earlier, some types of mint can be toxic to cats if consumed in large quantities or if they contain harmful substances. Some of the symptoms of mint poisoning in cats are:
- Liver damage
If you suspect that your cat has eaten too much mint or has been exposed to a toxic mint product, you should contact your veterinarian immediately or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.
Types of Cat-Safe Mint
If you want to grow mint plants in your garden or home, you should choose the ones that are safe for your cat. Here are some of the cat-safe mint varieties that you can consider:
- Lemon balm
- Apple mint
- Pineapple mint
However, even if these mint plants are safe for cats, you should still monitor your cat’s intake and behavior and limit their access to the plants. Too much of anything can be harmful, and some cats may develop an addiction or tolerance to mint.
Steer clear of Pennyroyal – a type of mint commonly used for centuries in folk medicine and as a flavor enhancer. Fortunately, it’s uncommon in most households today as it is toxic to animals, and people for that matter.