Lavender, native to regions including India, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, is a flowering plant that was used as a holy herb in ancient times. It is now widely cultivated for cosmetics, household cleaning products, candles and more, thanks to its light, floral scent. Lavender plants can also deter cats, and are used by some pet owners to keep their cats away from restricted areas of the home or garden.
Do cats hate lavender?
Yes, cats hate lavender, but not all of them. While a majority of cats detest its smell, a minority like it, and some are simply indifferent to the plant’s scent.
Why do cats hate lavender?
Because of its smell
Lavender has a strong, arresting scent. While humans love the smell and it is commonly added to household and beauty products, the reverse is true for most cats, as their superior sense of smell is more sensitive. Felines have 200 million odor sensors, while humans only have five million; they also have a scent organ called the Jacobson’s organ that further amplifies the smells around them.
Because of its texture
Some lavender varieties have a coarse, rough texture which irritates cats when they brush up against it. If you intend to use this as a cat deterrent, it is best to plant lavender along garden borders and areas where cats usually pass by.
Because of its toxicity
Lavender is potentially toxic to cats as it contains linalool and linalyl acetate, compounds that are poisonous for cats especially if ingested. These compounds are also found in other flowers, such as bergamot. Linalool is a natural insect repellent for plants.
Pet owners need not be alarmed, though. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, lavender is only mildly toxic and a cat would have to eat a lot of the plant before it could pose fatal risks.
Lavender essential oil is the most toxic form of lavender for cats, since it is a concentrated form and the compounds are about 2000 times stronger than in the plants it is extracted from. If a cat ingests lavender essential oil, its liver will not be able to tolerate the level of toxins. Be sure to keep this essential oil away from your cats if you use it at home or for your humidifier.
How does lavender toxicity occur in cats?
- If your cat ingests any part of the lavender plant
- If your cat inhales lavender essential oil from an oil burner or diffuser, or if it was applied to the cat
The essential oil gets absorbed into the body through the skin, and could also be ingested when the cat grooms itself. Lavender essential oil can irritate the skin and mucous membranes of the mouth, leading to dermatitis and mouth ulcers.
Other essential oils that are toxic to cats include citrus, pine, cinnamon, wintergreen, ylang ylang, birch, eucalyptus, tea tree, peppermint and clove.
Symptoms of essential oil poisoning include vomiting, drooling, tremors, difficulty breathing, chills, liver failure, ataxia or wobbliness, respiratory distress and a low heart rate. The symptoms may depend on the type of oil your cat was exposed to.
Other plants that cats hate:
- Scaredy cat plant, or coleus canina
- Common rue
- Curry plant
Cats are independent animals with distinct preferences and dislikes. Most of them hate lavender because of its strong, floral scent, which can be too much for their superior sense of smell. Aside from the smell, they also cannot tolerate the coarse texture of the plants. Most importantly, cats tend to avoid lavender because of its potential toxicity. However, not all cats avoid it; a minority of cats love lavender.
Image: istockphoto.com / Francesco Marzovillo