If you’re a cat guardian, you’re already aware of the immutable rules of the feline world. Books were made to be sat on, litter must immediately be used as soon as it’s been changed and anything a human is eating must be delicious. This, unfortunately, applies to lots of things that really aren’t very good for cats. You’ve probably wrested all kinds of food items away from your furry friend — and non-food items, too. The same seems to go for things that we’re drinking. A cat who pointedly ignores a dish of fresh, clean water may think nothing of sticking her head in your glass.
Can cats drink tea? No, cats should not drink tea. While your cat will probably be fine if she licks up a drop or two of spilt tea from the table, you should not let her drink tea in any quantity. Tea is toxic to cats and could cause serious health issues.
You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about your cat and whether or not she should be allowed to drink tea. Maybe you’ve just caught your cat stealing a sip or two from your cup and you’re worried about ill-effects. Perhaps you have a cat who doesn’t drink enough and you’re thinking about providing tea since she’s interested in it.
- Can cats drink tea?
- What might go wrong if your cat drinks tea?
- What are the compounds in tea that could harm your cat?
You’ve come to the right place because we have all the answers you’re looking for. Read on to find out more about cats and tea.
Can cats drink tea?
Your cat really should not drink tea, as it contains a number of compounds that are very bad for cats. Accidents happen and given the determination of some cats to ingest things they shouldn’t, it’s possible that your cat might manage to consume a lick or two of tea if you happen to spill some while she’s nearby. If she only licks up a drop or two, that’s not something you need to worry about unless she begins to show symptoms of ill-health.
How bad your cat’s reaction might be depending on the amount of tea she’s consumed. Larger quantities of tea are a greater cause for concern. Your cat may suffer severe health consequences if she manages to drink more than the small quantities mentioned above.
The principle concern in this situation is caffeine. Cats should never have caffeine as their systems are far more sensitive to this substance than ours. A cat who drinks caffeine can exhibit a range of symptoms. In a fit young adult cat with no health problems, small quantities of tea may cause similar symptoms to an excess of caffeine in humans. Your cat may become jittery, anxious and easily startled. She may run around randomly and show signs of panic and distress. She may be more apt to get into fights with your other pets or engage in destructive behaviour. Luckily this should all wear off in a few hours.
More serious symptoms include excessive drooling, vomiting and loose stools. While the first is not necessarily a major concern, it is uncomfortable and unpleasant for the cat. Diarrhoea and vomiting are more dangerous as they can cause dehydration.
If your cat is small, elderly or unwell, even a small amount of caffeine can be quite disastrous to her system. Cats who suffer from caffeine poisoning can rapidly become disoriented and confused. They may become uncoordinated, stumbling and staggering. A cat with severe caffeine poisoning may collapse and even have seizures. This is a serious medical emergency and requires immediate attention from your vet.
Tea also contains tannins and certain aromatic compounds. Some teas, such as Earl Grey, are flavoured with essential oils. These can also be dangerous for cats, as their systems cannot process them in the same ways that ours can. This means that even decaffeinated teas are bad for cats.
Some people assume that milky tea drinks are somehow safer for cats, usually under the assumption that the “healthy” milk will offset any ill effects from the tea. This is wrong on a number of levels. First of all, although milk can dilute the tea and thus reduce the amount of caffeine and other substances the cat might ingest, it won’t make those substances less dangerous. Secondly, milk is not a “healthy” drink for cats (except lactose-free coconut milk). Most adult cats are lactose intolerant to some degree and will not be able to digest the milk properly.
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Can my cat have herbal teas?
Some kinds of “tea” are in fact herbal infusions containing no actual tea at all. This matters because different herbs can have different effects. Some are more-or-less harmless but others can cause their own significant health issues.
Chamomile tea is a common culprit, as the name “chamomile” can refer to a wide range of safe and unsafe species. German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is safe for cats; indeed, it has several beneficial properties. Unfortunately, many chamomile teas contain different varieties of chamomile. One of these is Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). This is a similar-looking herb with similar properties in humans — but completely different, and far more dangerous, effects on cats. Unless you know exactly which herb you’re dealing with, it’s best to keep any kind of chamomile tea away from your cats.
St John’s Wort is a powerful herb that’s sometimes drunk as an infusion. While it has many positive effects on people, it can be very dangerous for cats. (It’s also not a great idea for humans to drink it if they’re on any kind of medication.)
Another popular herbal tea for humans is mint tea. Peppermint and spearmint teas are great for dyspepsia in humans but can upset a cat’s digestion just as they soothe ours.
Lavender is a nice, fragrant herb in your tea; however, it’s not really okay for your cat. Luckily, a cat would have to consume quite a lot of lavender tea before she became sick. Unluckily, there are plenty of cats who are just that determined to drink whatever you’re drinking even if they make themselves ill in the process.
Are any herbal teas good for cats?
On the other hand, there are several herbs that are just fine for cats and can even be beneficial. You can use several of these to make kitty “teas”. There are various reasons you might do this. One is to treat minor conditions, with your vet’s blessing. Another is simply to encourage your cat to drink up her fluid. Cats have an awful habit of allowing themselves to become chronically dehydrated; I’ll discuss this a bit more in the next section. A tasty kitty tea can help with this.
Of course, all infusions you make for your cat should be allowed to cool before you put them in her bowl. Cats can easily scald their sensitive mouths and noses. Use a separate bowl to the one you usually put her water in, since herbal infusions may leave a residue behind. If she doesn’t like the taste or smell, she may not want to use that dish.
Catnip, also known as catmint, is a great herb for relaxing nervous kitties and putting them in a better frame of mind. If they ingest enough of it, cats can go on a sort of “trip” where they roll around and play like kittens. Making an infusion of catnip may help a nervous kitty to calm down or encourage a dehydrated cat to drink.
You may take Valerian yourself. This herb is noted for its rather offensive odour — a friend of mine calls it the “stinky feet” herb. It’s also noted as a relaxant and sleep aid for humans. For cats, though, Valerian has the opposite effect. It acts as a mild stimulant that encourages them to get up and play. This is great if you have one of those inveterate couch potatoes who really needs a bit more exercise.
Liquorice root is a good herb for kitties with nervous stomachs. Infusions of liquorice root help to settle their digestions and may also have a relaxing effect on some cats.
Why would I want my cat to drink more?
In the previous section, I mentioned the benefit of giving your cats a herbal “tea” infusion to encourage them to drink more liquids. This is important because cats can be really, really bad about getting enough liquid, with unfortunate results.
The desert ancestors of the modern domestic cat, and the modern housecat’s feral cousin, get most of the liquid they need from the bodies of prey animals. They may also drink from water sources if these are clean enough. Cats tend to prefer running water for this reason. Standing water can rapidly become stale and contaminated while running water is more likely to be clean and safe. Standing water is particularly suspect to the feline subconscious if it’s close to dead prey, as the latter could rapidly decompose and allow contaminants to poison the water.
From the point of view of a cat, therefore, the usual arrangement of “food and water dishes next to each other on the kitchen floor” is a recipe for disaster. If you’ve got one of those cats who insist on dragging her dish across the floor, slopping water all the way, before she’ll drink from it — well, now you know why. It’s the same with kitties who refuse their dish altogether and scream at you until you turn on the tap.
My preferred solution is a pet fountain but not everyone likes those. Some cats seem to object to the sound of the motor, or something else about the fountain bothers them, and they won’t drink. Providing water that’s infused with something your kitty enjoys can be a great way to keep her hydrated. Just don’t let her drink your Earl Grey.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.