What is Cinnamon Allergy or Toxicity?
Although cinnamon is technically classified as non-toxic to cats, it can become toxic at certain levels-- especially if your cat is exposed to the higher concentrations typically found in essential oils. Cats can be particularly susceptible to toxicity from cinnamon for a couple of reasons. Cats lack some of the liver enzymes that break down cinnamon compounds which can then build up if your pet is exposed to a high concentration in a short period of time, or, if your pet is exposed to a lower concentration over a long period of time. Also, because cats have thin skin, which can easily absorb cinnamon compounds applied in essential oils, this puts them at an increased risk for cinnamon toxicity.
Cinnamon can also act an irritant on the skin or in the oral cavity, causing rash and allergic-type reactions in cats and other animals. Because cats have sensitive skin and a keener senses of smell than humans, they are at an increased risk of reaction from exposure to cinnamon or cinnamon odor. If your cat exhibits symptoms of cinnamon allergic reaction or toxicity after being exposed to cinnamon you should consult with your veterinarian immediately.
Cinnamon, also referred to as cinnamomum, is commonly found in households and human food. There are two types of cinnamon: cassia and ceylon. Cassia cinnamon is commonly used in North America and contains higher levels of a substance called coumarin then ceylon cinnamon. Coumarin in high concentrations is used as a rodenticide (rat poison) and causes liver failure and hemorganing in rodents. In humans, cinnamon is sometimes used as a natural medicine to treat diabetes, as it lowers blood sugar, or as a blood thinner.
Symptoms of Cinnamon Allergy or Toxicity in Cats
A variety of symptoms can result from an allergic or toxic reaction to cinnamon and its organic compounds. Symptoms vary by level and mode of exposure.
Allergic reaction from exposure to the skin or oral cavity:
Respiratory reaction to inhalation:
- Bronchospasm or difficulty breathing
Symptoms of cinnamon toxicity from ingestion or absorption of cinnamon compounds:
- Low blood sugar
- Change in heart rate
- Thinning of blood
- Liver disease and other organ failure
Causes of Cinnamon Allergy or Toxicity in Cats
Cinnamon toxicity is unlikely to occur under normal, household use of powdered cinnamon. It would take a large amount of powder, or the inhalation of the powder to cause a reaction. However, as essential oil use is becoming more common in households, there is an increased risk to cats from exposure to cinnamon essential oil, which has a much higher concentration of the compounds that can be harmful to cats.
Cats can accidentally be exposed to toxic amount of cinnamon in the following ways:
- Chewing on a cinnamon tree kept as an indoor plant
- Chewing on cinnamon stick left in a cup
- Eating human food spiced with cinnamon
- Chewing or licking potpourri or household ornaments made with cinnamon
- From use of cinnamon oil in a diffuser that your cat then inhales
- From touching or petting your cat after putting cinnamon oil on your hands
Intentional exposure can occur because:
- People sometimes use cinnamon to intentionally repel cats or pests in the garden and home and cats can be exposed to an excessive amount through their environment in this way.
- Cinnamon is used as a natural remedy for diabetes (as it lowers blood sugar). As a result, well-meaning pet owners may intentionally dose their cat with harmful amounts of cinnamon in an effort to treat feline diabetes.
It is important to understand that:
- Cats do not have the same liver enzymes (glucuronyl transferase) as humans that break down cinnamon compounds, therefore they are prone to toxic build up of cinnamon compounds in their system.
- Because cinnamon contains a carbolic acid known as phenol, burning of the skin and respiratory system can occur. Cats are particularly sensitive to this type of reaction.
Diagnosis of Cinnamon Allergy or Toxicity in Cats
Diagnosis of cinnamon toxicity or allergic reaction will depend heavily on the pet owner’s ability to describe any exposure to cinnamon their pet may have experienced. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination and ask about your cat’s medical history to rule out any other causes for your pet’s symptoms. If symptoms of organ failure are occurring, your veterinarian may perform tests including blood and urinalysis tests to assess organ functioning.
Treatment of Cinnamon Allergy or Toxicity in Cats
Treatment will depend on the extent of illness and symptoms resulting from your pet’s reaction to cinnamon.
For allergic reactions, the affected area should be washed with water and mild detergent. If irritation of the eyes occurred, the eyes should be well irrigated to remove the irritating substance. Steroids have been found to worsen rash from cinnamon exposure in other animals and will probably be avoided in your pet.
If toxicity has occurred, prognosis will depend on the amount of damage that has occurred to your pet’s organ systems. Treatment usually consists of supportive care until the toxin passes out of your cat's system and treatment to relieve any symptoms being experienced by your pet. If organ damage has occurred, the prognosis is guarded and your vet will provide any therapeutic care that is available and appropriate to restore organ functioning. Vitamin K is used as an antidote for coumarin poisoning in pets exposed to high doses of this substance which is also found in cinnamon. Vitamin K therapy may be useful if symptoms of coumarin poisoning (hemorrhaging from blood thinning) are occurring.
If you pet is in respiratory distress due to inhalation or ingestion of cinnamon, airway management and oxygen therapy will be used as appropriate.
Recovery of Cinnamon Allergy or Toxicity in Cats
Your pet’s recovery depends on the extent of exposure and any organ damage that has occurred. Allergic reactions usually clear up in a short period of time and removal of any cinnamon exposure from your cat’s environment should resolve the problem. Home treatment of cats with essential oils should be avoided; consult your veterinarian before attempting any treatments for your pet’s health conditions. Recovery from toxicity will require rest and any medications and diet prescribed by your veterinarian to recover organ function and relieve symptoms.