Herbs for cats: the power of plants

Herbs for cats provide environmental enrichment, and a whole load of other benefits...

Herbs for cats rosemary

Herbs for cats is not a concept we have ever really explored. On a recent visit to the big cat department at Chester Zoo we were walking through the gardens when we saw what looked like a herb garden.

In this herb garden was rosemary, catmint and lavender.

When we read the notes beside the garden, it turns out that they grow rosemary, catmint and lavender for their big cats. They dry the herbs out, and then make them into pillows and toys for the cats to play with...herbs for cats! These keeps the cats stimulated by exposing them to different scents.

Environmental enrichment with herbs 

Environmental enrichment is vitally important for cats. Cats are naturally inquisitive and adventurous creatures.  Environmental enrichment becomes especially important if your cat is an indoor cat, and it is vital if you have a stud boy, or an unneutered male cat. Stud boys have more hormones in their systems which make their primal urges even stronger!

Herbs for cats: Rosemary

The strong scent of rosemary is great for stimulating your cat by exposing them to something new, different and out of the ordinary. But rosemary also has lots of additional beneficial properties that can help your cat. It is thought to be very good at stimulating cognitive function, aiding with memory loss, and helping with eye health. It is also has the following properties:

  • antibacterial

  • antifungal

  • antiviral

  • Anti-inflammatory

Rosemary can be helpful in treating allergies and lowering blood pressure, and for respiratory conditions and pain relief.

Herbs for cats: Catmint 

Herbs for cats catmint is very attractive in a garden

Catmint is from the same family as catnip, but much more pretty in your garden! Cats go crazy for it! If you do plant a patch of catmint in your garden, be prepared for it to be flattened half the time by your cats laying in it! Catmint is a great sensory stimulant to cats. Like catnip, it actually causes endorphins to be released which are great for lifting your cat's mood and also can be very helpful in managing pain. 

Constant exposure to catnip or catmint causes a cat to develop a tolerance to its wonderful effects. To avoid this happening, allow your cat limited exposure to catmint or catnip. Give them a catmint/catnip toy for a limited time and then remove it. The next day try them with lavender and then the following day with rosemary, before returning to the catnip/catmint. This will ensure that they do not become 'immune' to its wonderful effects! 

Be aware that catnip/catmint has no effect on kittens - their brains are not sufficiently developed yet, so do not invest in these sorts of toys until your cat is an adult. 

Herbs for cats: Lavender

Herbs for cats lavender

Lavender is from the same plant family as rosemary. It has been used at the University of Maryland to help calm cats and dogs and as a sedative for them. Lavender is also considered antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial. It is also great for encouraging wildlife in your garden. Use lavender to provide a novel. strong scent for your cat to investigate. 


Valerian is said to have multiple benefits for cats. It is incredibly stimulating for them in a toy, it also has calming effects, anti-nausea effects and is thought to help with pain relief and relaxation. You can buy valerian toys - we have reviewed some in our top 5 toys article.


These herbs can also be made into cat-friendly shampoos, but please do not use anything in them that is toxic to cats. There are several household items that are highly toxic to cats, so please check every ingredient individually. Household items that are toxic to cats

Please also make sure that your cat cannot eat any parts of these herbs that might be dangerous. Sharp plant material like pine needles, and possibly dried rosemary needles, can cause dangerous blockages/perforations if ingested. 

*Always speak to your vet before exposing your cat to any new substance, treatment or medicine. Be especially careful with essential oils as these can be dangerous to animals*

Variety is the spice of life

For maximum environmental enrichment, alternate between different toys and different herbs or scents. On average, a cat will play with any one toy 5-7 times before it becomes bored with it. But if you take the toy away for a few days and then return it, their inquisitiveness returns and they explore it all over again. So give them toys for a limited time, or a few toys each day that you put away at the end of the day. This will keep them interested in their environment. 

Using herbs not only stimulates cats in a very natural way by appealing to their sense of smell, but also provide beneficial qualities for your cat when used correctly. 

So thank you to Chester Zoo for the ideas!

Discover more...

Read more about environmental enrichment for cats

Consider whether you should keep a stud cat

Learn about the causes and solutions for cat aggression

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