Many essential oils that might smell pleasant to humans are unsafe for cats. Peppermint oil, and the scent of peppermint, is one scent that is unsafe for felines. We will talk about what happens if cats are exposed to peppermint oil here.
Although the ASPCA has not listed the peppermint plant as being toxic to cats, if cats are exposed to peppermint or peppermint oil, some unpleasant effects can occur. Veterinarians therefore recommend that you keep all peppermint oil and peppermint scents away from your cat.
Why is Peppermint and Peppermint Oil Unsafe for Cats?
Peppermint is actually a cross between wintergreen and spearmint. It is used in humans to treat upset stomach, nausea and irritable bowels. It has been used topically on humans to treat sore muscles and itchiness. As an aromatherapy treatment for humans, peppermint oil has been sued to increase energy and open nasal passages.
We humans generally experience a pleasant, tingly, clean feeling when we inhale peppermint scent and peppermint oil. Cats, however, do not. Their nervous systems are very sensitive to peppermint scent and peppermint oil. Cats’ olfactory receptors are 14 times more powerful than those of humans. Peppermint oil contains phenols and phenolic compounds, to which cats are quite sensitive. Cats lack enzymes in their liver which help to eliminate phenols and other toxins. Sniffing or ingesting peppermint can cause all sorts of unpleasant, unhealthy and potentially lethal symptoms in cats, such as:
- Aspiration pneumonia, which is characterized by fever, fast and labored breathing, and rapid heart rate
- Low body temperature
- Upset stomach and gastrointestinal problems
- Liver damage
- Central nervous system damage, characterized by loss of appetite and drooling
- Irritated nasal passages
- Irritated eyes
- Ataxia (wobbliness)
But I’ve Read Peppermint is a Safe, Natural Flea Treatment for Cats—Is This False?
Peppermint oil can kill fleas, and is a natural pesticide. Fleas don’t like the scent of peppermint and may die if they come into contact with it. Peppermint attacks a flea’s central nervous system, leading to a slow death. But by no means is peppermint oil safe for cats, as we have mentioned above. In addition to attacking the flea’s central nervous system, it also attacks your cat’s central nervous system, as well as other bodily systems.
If your cat has a flea problem, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center recommends that you take your cat to the vet before trying any natural, home treatments. Your vet can help you to determine the best and safest flea treatment for your cat.
How Can I Make Sure My Cat Isn’t Exposed to Peppermint?
If you wish to use essential oils in your home, make sure to do so in an area that your cat does not frequent. It’s best to keep your cat completely out of any room in which you use essential oils, especially peppermint. Anything with a peppermint scent – not just peppermint oil—should be kept far away from your cat. If something is labeled as peppermint scented, even if you can’t smell it, be sure to keep it away from you cat.
Even a mixture of peppermint and water sprayed around the house to repel ants (which many homeowners have been known to do) can be toxic to your cat. If you use such a peppermint repellant outside of your home to repel ants, and your cat is indoors, your cat should be safe. However, experts recommend that you don’t spray anything with any type of peppermint scent or oil indoors when you have indoor cats, whether it’s to repel bugs, ants, as an air freshener, or for any reason.
What are Signs That My Cat Has Been Exposed to Peppermint?
If your cat has been exposed to peppermint or peppermint oil, they may display some of the following symptoms:
- Irritated nasal passages, causing nose or eye discharge
- Low body temperature
- Increased heart rate
- Loss of appetite
Cats may show some or none of these above symptoms after exposure to peppermint, and symptoms may develop hours after exposure. If your cat does develop any of the above symptoms after being exposed to peppermint scent, take them immediately to the vet. Don’t wait, as symptoms can worsen and even lead to death if not treated.
Should I Eliminate All Peppermint Scented Items and Peppermint Oils from My Home?
If you have cats in your home, the safest bet is to bring no peppermint scented items, peppermint plants, or peppermint oils into your home. Period. Even if the peppermint is being used in another room away from your cat, we all know how curious felines can be. A sneaky cat can find its way into any room, off-limits or not, and quickly become exposed to the scent of peppermint. All sorts of negative side effects can ensue, as noted above. When it comes to peppermint, the rule for cat owners should be – when in doubt, leave it out!