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Can Cats Eat Lemon? Vet Approved Facts & FAQ

Can Cats Eat lemon
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Christian Adams

Vet approved

	Dr. Maja Platisa Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maja Platisa

DVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If your cat gets into the fruit bowl, you may wonder what you should do. Can cats eat lemons, or are they unhealthy for your furry friends?

The short answer: lemons are considered toxic to cats. You’ll want to keep them out of the reach of your curious feline as much as possible.

The good news is that cats usually avoid citrus scents. But if your cat insists on sampling your groceries, you’ll probably want to know what the specific issues are. Let’s delve into what makes lemon and other citrus fruits a concern for our feline friends.


Toxic Ingredients

The most important thing to remember about lemons or any other food is that just because it’s okay for you to eat is not a guarantee that it’s safe for your pets. The difference rests with our different physiologies.

What is okay for us to eat isn’t necessarily the same for cats—or dogs. Garlic, chives, and onions are examples of things we can digest without any issues but will harm other animals.

Can Cats Eat Lemon
Image Credit: Myriams-Fotos, Pixabay

Unlike people and dogs, cats are obligate carnivores. That means the majority of their diet comes from meat. Evolution hasn’t equipped them to digest plant materials the same as omnivores like us. However, there’s more to this question.

The problem with lemon or any citrus fruits is an ingredient called psoralen. This compound has therapeutic applications in people for treating health conditions like psoriasis. For cats, it’s a different story. Psoralen may cause skin irritation, which worsens with contact with UV light and may cause blistering, redness, and dermatitis. We haven’t been able to find studies that describe these side effects in cats that ate lemons, but we have to be aware of the potential for such ill effects.

Unfortunately, evidence and research around lemon and other citrus fruits and their safety for cats is currently very limited. ASPCA lists lemon as toxic to cats, and based on some of the older studies we have found, we would err on the side of caution when it comes to citrus fruits and cats.

It’s not just lemons themselves that can cause a problem. The chemical responsible for the lemon scent is also toxic to cats. The lemon shampoo you use on your dog can be dangerous to use on your cat. That’s why it’s imperative to only use cat products on your pet, and make sure those are vet-approved and safe for cats.

Sad sick young gray cat
Image Credit: Ro_ksy, Shutterstock

The essential oils in lemon and other citric acid products and extracts, which contain limonene and linalool, are also a problem. It’s not just cats. These compounds can be toxic to horses and dogs to varying degrees. There are a few reports of d-limonene toxicity in cats in literature, usually due to contact of the cat’s skin with products like insecticidal shampoos that contain limonene. These signs can be quite severe. Nervous and digestive systems and the skin are usually affected, and there is one report of a cat being euthanized due to the severity of the illness.

Health Effects and Signs

Even a small taste of lemon may be enough to trigger gastrointestinal distress in your pet, if just because of the high acidity and essential oil compounds.  However, a lot depends on the dose, type of formulation, and health of your cat.

Signs of lemon poisoning in cats may include:

  • Irritation around your pet’s mouth and gums
  • Drooling
  • Depression
  • Tremors
  • Body weakness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Falling over
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced body temperature
  • Skin irritation (particularly on the scrotum)
  • Skin necrosis (in case of high doses applied on the skin, often through a shampoo)
  • Septic shock

Lemon can also cause other signs that may seem odd, such as sensitivity to bright lights or even the sun. The cat may cower and act as if they’re in pain. Suffice to say that you’ll likely see changes in your pet’s behavior, which are a red flag that something is seriously wrong and they need to see a vet.

Can Cats Eat Lemon
Image Credit: pixel2013, Pixabay

Diagnosis and Treatment

Poisons often act quickly, and the severity of signs depends on how much they ate. Remember that cats often hide the fact that they’re sick. They may act differently than they normally do, like hiding in strange places. That can be a sign that you’re dealing with illness instead of a toxin, where the effects are more immediate.

If you see the telltale signs, or your cat has eaten part of a lemon or come in contact with citric essential oils or limonene insecticidal shampoo, contact your vet immediately, as you may need to get your cat to the emergency vet hospital ASAP. The typical treatment is to get the toxin out of your pet’s system quickly through gastric lavage or the administration of activated charcoal, if indicated. The latter will help remove any lingering toxins in your cat’s GI tract.

Your vet may also give your pet IV fluids to rehydrate your cat if they vomited or had diarrhea. If they experienced phototoxicity or extreme sensitivity to sunlight, you should contact your vet and keep them inside until they fully recover. They may be at risk for secondary skin infections if they lick or scratch too much from the effects. Anything else is supportive care to help her recover from the ordeal.

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Final Thoughts

As our discussion showed, lemons are not considered safe for cats and can cause serious and variable signs of toxicity. The important takeaway message is that just because you can eat something doesn’t mean that it’s all right for your pet. Our bodies process foods differently. There are only a few reports on toxic effects of lemon compounds in cats, particularly in case of limonene shampoo exposure and essential oils, and these may lead to severe signs of illness. Speak to your vet if your cat came in contact with any citrus fruits or citric acid products.

The other critical message is that cats and dogs are not the same. They too have distinct physiologies that reflect their dietary needs and evolution. The greater risk exists with using canine products on felines. It’s not just marketing by the pet industry. It can have dire consequences. Perhaps the best thing you can do as a pet owner is not to give your cat or dog any people food without speaking to your vet first.

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About the Author

Christian Adams
Christian Adams
Christian is the Editor-in-Chief of Excited Cats and one of its original and primary contributors. A lifelong cat lover, now based in South East Asia, Christian and his wife are the proud parents of an 11-year-old son and four rescue cats: Trixie, Chloe, Sparky, and Chopper.

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