In this article we cover why providing a herb garden for your cat is a crucial piece of enrichment. You’ll learn how it can support their emotional needs and tap into their natural drive to self-medicate.
As a holistic feline behaviourist, I try to educate my feline guardians about how they can meet the needs of their cat. Enrichment is key when looking after mental well-being. Herb gardens not only provide this crucial enrichment, but they can also help the cat to support any physical or emotional issues such as chronic pain, stress and anxiety.
What is a herb garden?
A herb garden is the term that I use to describe four dried herbs on a blanket or towel. It’s something that I learnt about during my training with Caroline Ingraham of Ingraham Applied Zoopharmacognosy and it’s just stuck with me! I think it is a lovely term to describe an enrichment tool that we can provide for our furry friends. There’s nothing like going to a peaceful garden as a human to take some time out and relax right – it’s the same for our cats.
I see a herb garden as a space where the cat can go to self soothe, to deal with stress and anxiety etc. Why are the herbs on a blanket or towel? Because it can get a little messy when they are ‘in the zone’ and I’m trying to save you hoovering up the aftermath of an enrichment session.
How can it help your cat?
As I’ve mentioned above, herb gardens are a form of enrichment and this is key for your cat to enable them to thrive rather than just survive in their environment.
Herb gardens provide mental stimulation for your cat by giving them something to investigate and explore using their curiosity.
Then you have the fun element – if the cat decides to select the herbs/flowers on the blanket they may roll in them or play with them.
And finally, you have the healing properties from the herbs/flowers themselves. And to me, this is the most magical part.
How will it affect your cat?
There is no downside or any negative effects to using a herb garden. The most negative thing that will happen is that your cat will show no interest in the remedies provided, s/he may sniff and walk away and not return. That’s not too bad right?!
If the cat does select the remedies you are allowing the cat to exhibit natural, normal behaviours using self-selection. This is the start of you giving your cat a voice. This is when the magic happens. If the cat chooses the remedies that are on the blanket you can just sit back and watch in awe and wonderment. Your cat will be very happy and I’m sure you’ll get some head boops or leg rubs as a thank you.
Each dried herb/flower has different healing properties. For example, comfrey helps to reduce pain and rose buds can be nurturing. It depends what your cat needs as to how it will help or affect your cat. An elderly cat may rub, roll or ingest comfrey or valerian to help with joint stiffness so you may see them moving around a little easier after being on a herb garden. Or a nervous cat may select rose buds and marigold, then you may see an increase in their play activity or behaviour.
How to create one for your cat…
There are a few key points to consider when you are setting up your herb garden.
- For multi-cat households, have one herb garden per cat (at least) and in different areas of the house.
- Have the herb garden in an area away from heavy foot traffic.
- Have it in a room where the cat goes to relax, don’t have it in a room that the cat never uses.
- Give the cat time to relax and enjoy the remedies without being interrupted or disturbed.
- Allow the cat to do whatever s/he needs to – don’t interfere!
- Keep the remedies topped up.
- Be generous with the amount of herb/flower you put down.
- Enjoy – watching your cat on a herb garden is a really lovely experience.
When you start to set up the herb garden, it’s likely that your cat will be sniffing around and wondering what’s going on, wanting to be involved. This is a great sign – encourage your cat. Talk to her/him, let them sniff the remedies.
Place a good-sized blanket or towel down on the floor and put a good pinch/small handful of each herb/flower in each corner.
Sit back and let your cat investigate and enjoy.
Signs of processing the remedies
Let’s talk about what a cat will do on a herb garden.
The first point to note – every cat is different. Just because one cat selects marigold doesn’t mean your other cat will. Not all humans like the same things.
A cat will typically have a sniff around each herb/flower and then possibly just sit near/on one.
Or they may rub, roll and play with the remedies.
They may even lick or ingest a remedy. All of these are perfectly fine. If your cat ingests a herb/flower it is using it’s natural instincts to self-select, to take into its body what it needs to heal. Don’t be alarmed.
I’ll be adding more herb garden videos to my gallery. Head over now and see the rescue cat on the herb garden.
If your cat simply sniffs and walks away that’s ok. It might not be the right remedies for your cat, or they may want to use it when humans aren’t around.
When cats are using a herb garden they are healing – on whatever level they need. Emotionally mentally or physically. This makes them vulnerable. They may need you near them for reassurance, or they may want to enjoy the herb garden in private – again there is no right or wrong. It’s whatever is right for your cat in that moment.
Leave the herb garden down for at least a week. If it’s not used, pick up the blanket and perhaps try other herbs. Or if the cat eats/uses up all of the remedies keep it topped up, so make sure you check it daily.
Where can you get provisions?
You will be able to purchase individual herb garden packages from the Naturally Cats Website.
The herb gardens are created so that you will receive either 4 or 6 individual herbs/flowers in a package containing enough for two herb gardens, all for a set price. This means you can purchase a herb garden for ‘pain’ or ‘anxiety’ and then try it out with your cat.
NOTE: All of the herbs and flowers are natural and untreated – this is really important when offering a herb garden to your cat. If you purchase dried herbs or flowers from another supplier, PLEASE make sure they are not treated, and that no form of perfume is added to the herbs/flowers. This is sooo important because if the cat ingests any chemical additives it could make them very sick.
FAQ’s about herb gardens
Are herb gardens for indoor only cats?
No way! When it comes to enrichment, yes there are different things to consider if your cat is indoor or allowed outdoors, but when it comes to herb gardens these are a great source of support and enrichment for EVERY cat.
Can my cat have a herb garden if s/he is on medication?
Yes, herb gardens are a complementary form of support for your cat. If the cat ingests any of the remedies, they are taking into their body exactly what they need. Be sure to tell your vet that you are using complementary treatment to support allopathic medicine.
How long should I leave a herb garden down for?
As long as you can. If the cat shows no signs after a week you can pick it up and try again in a few days. If the cat is selecting the remedies, then leave it down as long as you can – making sure the flowers don’t get mouldy or run out! Keep it topped up, so your cat has all s/he needs.
Is it safe to have a herb garden down with a dog in the house?
Yes! You will probably find that after the cat has finished using the herb garden the dog may also want to rub/roll/eat/lick at the herbs/flowers.
It is just as safe for dogs to use the herb garden as they also employ self-selection principles. But out of good manners if your dog is interested in the remedies, I would advise you purchase more and set up another herb garden for the dog in a separate area to the cat.
Will it make my cat sick if s/he ingests the herbs/flowers?
If the cat needs to purge, then yes it could make your cat sick, but this is very rare with dried herbs/flowers. This ‘normally’ happen when offering macerated remedies or powders.
If the cat does ingest the herb and is sick, I would advise that the cat is using the remedies to support its digestion – like when cats eat grass to help them shift a hairball – same principle. That’s why it’s also good to make sure you grow cat grass for your indoor cat.
If you have any other questions about herb gardens that aren’t covered in the FAQ’s here, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.
Julie-Anne Thorne is a holistic feline behaviourist. She created Naturally Cats to provide holistic help for cats and their guardians. She uses a combination of environment enrichment, behaviour modification and botanical remedies to help support cats emotionally to remove problem behaviours. She adapts her approach for each situation to give the cat a voice when working with a family. She helps to educate feline guardians so they can provide for their cat and watch them thrive not just survive.
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