Pet Consider

Can Cats Eat Basil?

Can I Give My Cat Basil?

Once we get away from pre-packaged or heavily processed foods, most of us discover the magic of herbs and spices. While cinnamon and nutmeg are the staple spices of desserts and sweet treats, herbs like basil are far more common features in our lunch and dinner dishes. Basil is delicious, easy to store, and easy to cook with—and, even better, it is good for our health. Many people use herbs and spices to treat or prevent common ailments, including the common cold, headaches, anxiety, and upset stomachs.

Because herbs like basil are natural, we often assume that they are safer than prescription drugs or manmade food products. But does this hold true for our pets? Can cats have basil?

The answer is technically yes, in that cats who eat basil are unlikely to suffer from any life-threatening or permanently damaging form of toxicity. The ASPCA recognizes basil as one of the herbs that is nontoxic to both dogs and cats, so there is no need to give yourself an aneurism trying to prevent your cat from chewing on the basil plant growing in your back yard. Your cat can safely consume basil in moderation. If your feline friend is one of the few with a love for herbs and spices, feel free to mix a little bit of fresh or dried basil into their food to add an exciting change in flavor.

Health Benefits?

basilBut the real question is this: are herbs like basil as beneficial to your cat’s health as they are to yours? Will basil cure cancer and reverse arthritis, as many believers in herbal healing claim? Realistically, no, basil probably is not going to save your cat’s life or alleviate their arthritis pains singlehandedly. Though some online sources present pretty impressive anecdotes, it is unlikely that basil will offer any huge medical payoff for your feline friend.
Cats, unlike people and even dogs, are obligate carnivores who have evolved to eat meat almost exclusively. Because their ancestors have been eating meat for the past several million years, our cats are left with a diminished ability to properly process plant foods, including herbs. Their digestive systems are set up with all of the equipment necessary to extract nutrition from meat, but much of the plant matter that they consume will pass through their bodies largely undigested.

Because cats can’t efficiently pull nutrients from plant foods, it’s unlikely that they will reap many of the potential healing benefits. That said, there may be a few small benefits to including foods like basil into your cat’s diet in small quantities. Basil does contain quite a few antioxidants, which can protect your cat’s health in the same way that they protect your own.

Antioxidants are thought to protect overall health because of the interactions they have with volatile metabolic waste products called free radicals. Though free radicals are completely natural byproducts of normal, healthy metabolic processes, they are highly reactive—they steal electrons from many of the particles they come into contact with. Unfortunately for our cats, most of these particles are body cells.

When they steal electrons, free radicals cause damage to body cells and the DNA inside of them. Sometimes, the damage kills the cell outright. In other situations, it causes genetic mutations that are then passed on to the next generation of cells. Many of these mutations are harmless, but others can result in diseases like cancer.

Things to Consider

Antioxidants protect your cat’s body from the harmful effects of these mutations by disarming the free radicals— they neutralize these highly reactive particles, which prevents them from needing to steal electrons from body cells. Consuming antioxidant-rich foods is thought to decrease the risk of cancer and other common ailments, including the psychological decline associated with aging. Studies on senior dogs found that an antioxidant-rich diet correlated with improved memory. There have not been many studies on cats, but it may be possible to extrapolate based on the results of other animal studies.

Basil and other herbs are also thought to combat inflammation. Inflammation is an important part of the immune response, but if it becomes chronic, it can cause or worsen disease. Anti-inflammatory foods, including basil, are thought to be especially beneficial when they are given to pets who are suffering from arthritis. If your cat consumes anti-inflammatory foods on a regular basis, they may experience a reduction in joint inflammation, which can alleviate pain and improve joint mobility.

Though there has been little research, some people also suggest that basil can be used to relax anxious cats during car trips or other stressful events.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, basil is safe for feline consumption in moderation. Some sources claim that it can even benefit your cat’s health and treat certain ailments, but there is little research to back this up. If you decide to introduce basil into your cat’s diet, start slowly and monitor them to make sure they don’t suffer any negative side effects.

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