Licorice root may soothe your sore throat, curb your hot flashes, and relieve inflammation. But is it safe to have licorice plants, licorice tea, licorice hydrosol, licorice essential oil, or black licorice candy around your cat?
Licorice root is safe for most cats in low doses for a short time.
We spoke with Melissa M. Brock, a board-certified veterinarian and an animal welfare expert at Pango Pets. She explained what types of licorice are safest for your cat.
What is licorice root?
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a perennial herb in the pea family. It has purple to pale-whitish blue flowers and feathery, evergreen leaves.
Licorice is native to western Asia and southern Europe. It grows 4-6 feet tall (1.22-1.83 meters) and 1-2 feet wide (30.48-60.96 centimeters).
Licorice root is called “the father of herbal medicine.” It was first used by Egyptians, Chinese, and Assyrians in the Bronze Age (4000-2000 BC). Ancient Greek philosophers chewed the sweet herb to aid digestion and soothe their sore throats.
Romans also used licorice root to treat their stomach ulcers, heartburn, and acid reflux. During Ramadan, Muslims drank licorice extract to combat their thirst. French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte chewed so much licorice root that it turned his teeth black.
While licorice root is similar to anise (Pimpinella anisum) and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) in flavor, it is rarely used in modern cooking. Licorice extract is a flavoring agent in candies, gum, toothpaste, and tobacco.
Licorice extract is an active ingredient in cough syrup and lozenges. It also is used as a foaming agent in beer and fire extinguishers.
What are the health benefits of licorice root for cats?
Licorice root has not been studied by feline scientists.
Licorice root is often recommended for cats with Addison’s disease, allergies, asthma, or arthritis. It may boost white blood cell production and improve respiratory health.
The herb also may kill free radicals. They are unstable atoms that damage cells and cause chronic diseases.
Licorice root is used to treat liver disease in cats. Dr. Brock says it may also improve skin health, hair growth, and hair thickness. That may decrease hairballs.
Licorice root may prevent the growth of bacteria. It is also used to heal ulcers and may reduce stomach acid.
Can cats eat all parts of the licorice plant?
While cats can eat every part of the licorice plant, it is not recommended. “The sap from the licorice plant contains glycyrrhizin,” Dr. Brock says. Glycyrrhizin is a simple plant sugar that comes from the roots of the licorice plant. It is toxic to cats.
But several forms of licorice root are safe for cats: licorice extract, licorice tablets, and licorice chew sticks. The chew sticks are popular because they are easier for cats to eat than raw licorice root — which can be very bitter. Licorice root chew sticks are helpful for cats with digestive issues like diarrhea or constipation. They help move food through your cat’s body and reduce inflammation in the intestines.
Licorice root chews are also available in fish flavors like tuna and salmon.
How much licorice root can I give my cat?
“The recommended dosage is between 0.25 and 1 gram per 10 pounds of body weight, every day,” Dr. Brock says.
Can cats drink licorice tea?
Adult cats and kittens can drink licorice tea. Unlike other root herbal teas, licorice root tea is not as earthy. Though it has bitter, salty, sweet, and sour notes. So you may have a hard time getting your kitty to drink it.
Dr. Brock recommends using white, red, and purple licorice varieties. Make sure the label says licorice root or licorice extract. “Do not use black licorice because it contains an ingredient called glycyrrhizin, which has been shown to cause liver damage in cats and dogs that eat too much of it.”
Give your cat 1/2 teaspoon (4.92 ml) of licorice root tea at a time with their food or water.
Is licorice hydrosol safe for cats?
Licorice hydrosol is created by gently boiling licorice root extract in water. At 212°F, the water boils and becomes steam. When it turns back into water, it becomes hydrosol or floral water. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy says licorice hydrosol has 10 drops of oil per 4.5 cups (1 liter) of hydrosol.
“Licorice hydrosol is a great addition to your cat’s skincare routine,” Dr. Brock says. “It has a soothing and calming effect that helps with anxiety symptoms. It can also be used as an anti-inflammatory.”
You should only use 100% pure or organic licorice hydrosol on your feline friend. Some brands may have added ingredients that are harmful to cats. Ask your veterinarian whether the licorice hydrosol you want to use is safe for your pet.
Is licorice essential oil safe for cats?
Licorice essential oil is safe for your cat. It has antiseptic properties that can help prevent skin infections and heal wounds. It also helps reduce pain or inflammation caused by injuries.
Never use licorice essential oil on open wounds or broken skin because it can cause irritation or an allergic reaction. Your cat may also lick off any oil left on her skin. Before using licorice oil, dilute it with carrier oils (e.g., coconut, sunflower, or avocado oil). Use 1 drop of pure licorice essential oil to 445 drops (1.5 tablespoons) of carrier oil.
Can my cat eat black licorice candy?
Cats are "sweet blind" because of a Tas1r gene mutation. While your cat might seem to enjoy black licorice, it is most likely due to its texture or smell. If your cat accidentally eats black licorice candy, it will not hurt her.
Most black licorice candy in the United States is flavored with anise seed. Most European black licorice candy contains real licorice.
But both contain licorice extract that is 10–20% glycyrrhizin. This simple plant sugar is 50 times sweeter than sucrose. According to the American Chemical Society, it might even be more than 150 times sweeter than table sugar.
While natural sugars like molasses are safe for cats, Glycyrrhizin can spike your cat's blood pressure. It can damage her kidneys and liver. In rare cases, black licorice candy may result in death.
Black licorice candy also contains flour and corn starch. While these starchy binders are non-toxic, they are hard for cats to digest. Black licorice candy is coated in beeswax. This shiny substance is commonly used in feline cosmetics.
What are the side effects of licorice root?
Licorice root may interact with over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs.
Do not give licorice to cats with heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, or liver disease. You also should not give it to pregnant or nursing cats.
When used in large doses and for extended periods, licorice root can lower the amount of potassium in your cat's blood. This essential electrolyte sends electrical signals to the heart, nerves, and muscles.
Licorice-flavored products (including gums and candies) contain glycyrrhizin. It can cause high blood pressure, fluid retention, and high blood sugar. "This can lead to dehydration, lethargy, and even liver failure," Brock says. "It is especially dangerous for older cats or cats with diabetes."
Does your cat have congestive heart failure or an abnormal heartbeat? Licorice can interact with loop diuretics and heart medications like Digoxin. If your cat is hurt, her blood may take longer to clot. Blood clots are gel-like blobs of blood. They plug injured blood vessels and prevent bleeding.
If you are going to give your cat licorice root as an herbal supplement or food additive, speak with your vet first.
Licorice Plant Profile
Black Sugar, Bois Sucré (French), Common Licorice, Gān Cǎo (Chinese), Irq As-Sus (Arabic), Licorice Root, Mulethi (Punjabi), Spanish Juice, Sweet Root, Sweet Wood, True Licorice
Western Asia and southern Europe
🦋 Attracts butterflies
🔥Drought and salt tolerant
✅Used to flavor tobacco, chewing gum, candy, toothpaste, and beverages
☀️ Full sun
⛅ Partial shade
💧Average, water deeply during the growing season
4-6 feet (1.22-1.83 meters)
1-2 feet (30.48-60.96 centimeters)