Lemongrass has a catnip-like effect on most cats. Whether potted indoors or planted in an outdoor garden, a nibble-friendly patch of lemongrass is a safe cat treat. Lemongrass essential oil, however, can be toxic to felines, so store it safely and securely.
The Many Uses of Lemongrass
Lemongrass is the general term for more than 50 perennial plants in the Cymbopogon genus, which is native to Asia and India.
It's a common cooking ingredient and also has uses as a pesticide and preservative. In these latter contexts, its usually concentrated as an essential oil. While it deters many insects, it attracts bees.
Indoors or outdoors, it's fairly easy to cultivate, although you may want to limit your cat's exposure to it during plants' early growth stages.
Cats vs. the Lemongrass Plant
In its natural form—i.e., as a plant—lemongrass poses little if any danger to felines. A cat may eat too much of it and throw up, but poisoning is unlikely.
"A nibble of lemongrass will not harm your cats," notes Dr. Fox, a Washington Post's Animal Doctor columnist. "But an intensive craving could indicate (rather than cause) some underlying nutritional deficiency or disease, such as hyperthyroidism."
If your cat seems more than a little upset when you take away his lemongrass, schedule a veterinarian appointment and review the animal's diet.
Cats vs. Lemongrass Essential Oil
Concentrated as an essential oil, lemongrass can poison cats. Unlike dogs, people and horses, cats lack a liver enzyme (glucuronyl tranferase) required to break down the components of most essential oils, including lemongrass. If ingested, these components build up and can reach toxic levels or cause liver damage.
To avoid trouble, keep essential oil of lemongrass away from cats. Another option is to get a hydrosol form of lemongrass instead of an extract, which reduces its potential toxicity.
If your cat regularly consumes essential oil of lemongrass, contact a veterinarian. Damage is slow to accumulate, so symptoms may not show up until it's too late.
Alternatives and Considerations
Dr. Fox recommends varying lemongrass with other plants. "First, all things in moderation," Fox says. "Sprout some wheatgrass, alfalfa and catnip so your cats can graze."
You can use your cat's natural attraction to these plants to your advantage. If your cat is allowed outside, plant these attractants away from more delicate, less cat-friendly plants. Hopefully, your pet will enjoy her own garden while you enjoy yours.
If you've got lemongrass and you'd rather your cat didn't chew on it, try regularly spraying the plant with diluted lemon juice, which most felines abhor.