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Can Cats Eat Lemons?

If you’ve ever asked yourself, can cats eat lemons? The answer is a firm no.

Lemons and other citrus fruits can harm your feline friend because they contain toxic compounds that are poisonous to most domestic pets. These toxins are present not only in lemon fruits but also in lemon trees, so pet owners may want to exercise caution rather than leaving their fruit trees exposed or unattended.

Consuming lemons, lemon juice, or other lemon products can be lethal if your cat does not urgently receive medical attention. Read on to find out the ins and outs of why cats shouldn’t eat lemons.

Multicolored kitten sniffing lemons.  If you have a cat, you may have wondered "Can cats eat lemons?"
If you have a cat, have you ever wondered “Can cats eat lemons?”

What Makes Lemons Toxic for Cats?

We all know that lemons are hugely beneficial for humans. They’re full of vitamins and antioxidants and can be prepared for use and consumption in a number of different ways.

However, the limonene, linalool, and psoralens compounds in lemon fruits and trees can be exceptionally harmful to cats.  

Limonene, a key component of lemon oil, is responsible for the fruit’s pungent smell. While this is commonly used in cleaning products and even some animal shampoos and treatments, it is considered mildly toxic to cats.

A second component, linalool, which acts as a natural insecticide, is equally harmful when ingested by felines or used as a topical treatment.

Furthermore, lemons also contain psoralens, which can cause skin irritation and other more severe skin disorders in cats. While psoralens are used in many human skin treatments, they are known to cause sensitivity to light and sun, resulting in skin burns in felines.

Fortunately, most cats are put off by the citrusy scent of lemon, so unless your kitties have a particular penchant for their sour taste, they shouldn’t opt to eat these fruits willingly. On rare occasions, however, the taste of lemons may be masked by other food components or embedded in cleaning products, in which case your cat may suffer visible symptoms of distress.

What Are Symptoms of Lemon Poisoning in Cats?

A curious animal may sniff or lick a lemon or bite down on the branch of a lemon tree. This kind of minimal exposure is not harmful, and more than likely, your cat will be repelled by both the smell and the taste and carry on living its life.

Needless to say, should your cat consume pieces of lemon fruit or ingest lemon oil, it’s advisable to get them to the vet as soon as possible.

Consuming lemon may result in a combination of symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, drooling, weakness, lethargy, tremors, cold limbs, and low blood pressure.

Skin exposure to any toxic compound of lemon oil may result in skin irritation or rash, photosensitivity, and depression.  

Naturally, we cannot monitor a cat’s every move, so even if you only suspect they may have ingested lemon fruit, any of the above symptoms are serious enough to warrant a trip to the doctor.

A Siamese cat jumping off a counter where a basket of lemons is sitting.  Since cats shouldn't eat lemons, it's good that they find the smell of citrus unpleasant.

Treating Lemon Poisoning in Cats

Your vet is the best person to prescribe a treatment plan for a sick pet in any situation. In the case of feline lemon poisoning, they will start by assessing how ill the animal is.

Treatment for toxin ingestion and gastrointestinal distress usually involves a combination of a gastric lavage procedure and activated charcoal. A gastric lavage will wash out the cat’s stomach, while charcoal creates a barrier for poisonous particles trying to enter the bloodstream.

Additional treatment measures may include electrolyte supplements and IV drips for rehydration. In the case of skin burn, a topical treatment plan will be prescribed. 

In exceptionally severe cases, cats already suffering from seizures may need medication for tremors and extra oxygen to help their organs recover. 

If you suspect your cat has been poisoned, ask your vet to do a complete physical examination.  

Can Cats Recover From Lemon Poisoning?

Lemon poisoning is relatively rare because cats typically don’t eat anything with a strong citrus smell. However, cat parents know that they are a law unto themselves, so if your kitty does indeed munch a piece of lemon, don’t fear. 

Generally speaking, and with medical attention, cats can recover from this condition fully.

It is best to take them to the vet for regular checkups in the weeks proceeding the poisoning event. Together with this, you may want to keep outdoor cats inside for a few days to monitor their symptoms or prevent further signs of lemon poisoning.  

A cat next to a window sniffing a bowl of lemons.
While they may be curious about lemons, most cats won’t ever want to eat them.

Using Lemon Water as a Deterrent for Fleas

I recently read that it is recommended to lightly spray a cat with lemon water as a natural repellant for fleas. Is this safe?

The simple answer is that fleas detest the smell of lemon, but so does your cat, more than likely. And we know that lemon juice and oil can be harmful if it makes contact with a cat’s skin.

If your kitty has a flea problem, opt for an anti-flea treatment that isn’t displeasing or potentially dangerous for your cat. You may want to try using vinegar since it’s non-toxic for cats (and there are other ways cat owners can use vinegar).

Can I Keep a Lemon Tree if I Have a Cat?

Growing and caring for a lemon tree can be very satisfying, especially as they can be grown both indoors (like the Meyer variety) and outside (like the Lisbon).

Yet, given that they can pose a risk to our furry friends, the decision to house lemon trees can be a little challenging.

Here’s the good news. Most cats intensely dislike the smell of citrus fruits, so they will probably leave your trees alone. However, for the safety of your pets, consider monitoring your cat’s behavior around your lemon trees for a few days or even a few weeks.

If they leave the tree alone, you’re likely in the clear to keep your lemon trees and your cat safe.

A multicolored cat on a clay tile roof near branches of a lemon tree.  Since the answer to "Can cats eat lemons" is "No," it's important to take steps to keep your cat safe while still being able to enjoy citrus fruit.
Now that you know the answer to “Can cats eat lemons” is “No,” you can take steps to enjoy growing a lemon tree while still keeping your feline family member safe.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are citrus sprays bad for cats?

A: The popularity of essential oils is on the rise, and most citrus sprays contain them. Chemicals in essential oils are a source of toxins to cats and act quickly to make them ill. These oils absorb into the skin at a rapid rate, and cats, who have far fewer liver enzymes than humans, cannot effectively metabolize them. All of that aside, cats are usually quite distressed by citrusy smells. 

Q: Will lemons keep cats away from my plants?

A: This is quite an effective trick when it comes to protecting your plants from the sharp claws and curiosity of cats. Most felines hate citrus scents, so a few peels can act as potent deterrents for protecting delicate plant material. A few lemon peels sprinkled around the base of your plants go a long way to offending cats’ sensitive noses. However, before attempting this, make sure your cat is not wont to consume citrus products.

While there is little reason for a cat to willingly eat a piece of lemon, it is not to say that it never happens. For this reason, it’s always good to equip yourself with the knowledge of what your pets can and can’t eat. Indeed, should you notice that your cat is distressed and suspect lemon is the culprit, make sure to get it to the vet as soon as possible.

Curious about whether or not other fruits are safe for your cat? Click on this link to find other cat-related fruit articles.