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What is Garden Chamomile Poisoning?

Garden chamomile is a common, popular and attractive plant that is grown as an annual in yards throughout North America. It is also popular as a dried herb, brewed into a tea and known for its calming effects and its ability to aid in a healthy sleep for humans. While harmless to people, garden chamomile is toxic to your cat and can cause a variety of irritating symptoms. Garden chamomile poisoning is not generally lethal but your cat will need veterinary and supportive care if they have ingested the plant in either its natural or dried tea form.

Symptoms of Garden Chamomile Poisoning in Cats

Symptoms of garden chamomile poisoning, although not life threatening, can be severe and cause a great deal of distress for your pet. Common symptoms of the condition include:

  • Vomiting
  • Severe diarrhea and GI upset
  • Irritation of mouth, eyes or mucous membranes
  • Contact dermatitis (skin irritation)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Common allergic reactions in pets
  • Long term exposure may cause bleeding issues

Causes of Garden Chamomile Poisoning in Cats

Garden chamomile is a bushy green plant that produces long stalks of attractive white flowers with yellow centers. Other common names for garden chamomile include:

  • Manzanilla
  • Roman Chamomile
  • True Chamomile
  • Corn Feverfew
  • Barnyard Daisy
  • Ground-Apple
  • Turkey-Weed

There are a large number of toxic compounds present in the plant including volatile oils, bisabolol, chamazulene, anthemic acid, and tannic acid. These compounds work together to irritate your cat’s GI tract. All portions of the plant are poisonous.

The plant also has small fibers that cover the exterior stems and leaves. These fibers prick your cat’s skin, embedding and causing irritation and injury. This irritation also means that most cats will not consume large quantities of the stems and stalks. Cats are more likely to ingest the flowers or come in contact via household tea preparations.

Diagnosis of Garden Chamomile Poisoning in Cats

In order to provide an accurate diagnosis of garden chamomile in your cat you should provide your vet with a complete medical and physical history of your pet. An accurate timeline of onset of symptoms, especially if it occurred after they ingested a garden or household plant, will also help your vet pinpoint the exact chemical compounds that are causing your cat’s symptoms. If your cat was witnessed chewing on an object such as a tea bag or ingesting a plant in the garden you should bring along the plant or item to your veterinary visit. Symptoms of poisoning can often be similar to those of other conditions and clues provided by the owner will be helpful in prescribing the most effective course of treatment.

Your vet will want to conduct a thorough physical exam of your cat. During the exam they will use a special magnified scope to view any areas of irritation for small, hair-like protrusions left behind by a plant. They will also examine your cat’s mouth for signs of irritation or ulcers. If your cat is suffering from diarrhea your vet will also collect a stool sample which will be tested for common parasites that can cause similar symptoms.

Treatment of Garden Chamomile Poisoning in Cats

Once garden chamomile poisoning has been confirmed, your vet will begin administering treatment designed to first eliminate any remaining toxic compounds from your cat’s system and then treat any GI upset to allow for quick recovery and reducing discomfort. To begin, your vet will rinse your cat’s mouth via a method called lavage. Here, a saline solution is squirted and then allowed to drain from your cat’s mouth. 

Garden chamomile will most likely cause your cat to vomit. If your cat has not done so, vomiting may be induced through injection of medication. More commonly, vomiting is induced by administering a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide. This procedure is performed in your vet’s office and has an immediate effect, eliminating your cat’s stomach contents. 

Next, activated charcoal may be administered to your cat. Though this treatment is usually reserved for more serious cases of poisoning, if your cat ingested large amounts of garden chamomile it may be helpful in absorbing any excess toxic compounds which will speed recovery and eliminate symptoms. If your cat is still suffering from stomach upset, after some time your vet may administer anti-diarrhea drugs to help normalize your cat’s system.

Recovery of Garden Chamomile Poisoning in Cats

Most cats will make a full recover after suffering from garden chamomile poisoning. Symptoms of GI upset may last several days. Your vet may advise a bland home diet or special enzymes to be added to your cat’s food to aid in GI tract health. Your cat should be provided with plenty of fresh water and encouraged to drink to replace any fluids lost. Finally, your cat’s access to garden chamomile should be eliminated, either through removal of the plant or restriction from going outdoors. With proper care, most cats will suffer no long term effects from garden chamomile poisoning.