As a new cat owner I had obviously heard of the effects catnip can have on my feline companion, but I wondered…is catnip safe for cats? I mean, my friends said it’s basically weed for cats, so I wanted to do my due diligence before just giving this stuff to them.
Long story short, catnip IS safe for cats and kittens. It’s nontoxic and completely safe to smell and eat (in moderation), but there are certainly some important facts to know. Though catnip is safe for cats, it can cause some mild sickness if they eat WAY too much of it. But even this is rare, the symptoms are mild and cats recover after a short time. Aside from that, there are no other short or long term negative effects from catnip. In terms of how they’ll respond, catnip only affects about half of cats, and those that are affected should only feel the effects for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.
That’s my SparkNotes on whether catnip is safe for cats. If you like to go more in-depth I’ve detailed everything you need to know about catnip below!
What Is Catnip?
Catnip is just the commonly known name for Nepeta cataria, a perennial herb that belongs to the mint family and is also aptly called catmint. Its effects on cats can be attributed to a natural chemical compound called Nepetalactone, which can be found in large quantities in the plant’s essential oils. Though it’s known to have an entertaining reaction on cats, the side-effect doesn’t emerge until a cat is between three and six months old, and because it’s hereditary, 30% – 50% of cats have no reaction to the herb.
Is Catnip Safe For Cats?
Yup, it is completely safe for cats and kittens to use catnip, but obviously you don’t want to give them too much. And honestly, it only takes a tiny amount to affect your cat, so there’s no reason to give them a ton and risk them over-eating catnip. But, let’s look at some of the other common catnip health questions.
Does It Have Long-Term Side Effects?
Catnip doesn’t have any long-term health effects on cats, other than the fact that they can build up a tolerance to catnip itself and become desensitized to its effects. This means if you give it to them too often, they’ll have less of a reaction to it. It doesn’t seem like anyone really knows an exact threshold at which your cats will start to become desensitized, but the common opinion is to limit their exposure to catnip to once every two or three weeks.
Is It Safe To Eat?
Absolutely, but again, be careful not to give your cats too much. Catnip is a natural herb much like basil, rosemary, and thyme (all of which are also safe for cat consumption), and is safe not only for cats to eat but also for people.
Catnip is even sometimes made into tea and used as a herbal remedy for a number of human ailments, albeit not often as there are arguably better alternatives.
Is It Addictive?
Nope, according to Scientific American, Catnip isn’t addictive to cats or kittens, even if they act like they are when they see you bring it out. That’s just the same excitement as when you bring out their favorite toy. I mean, think about how excited you would get at the idea of having a burger after months of not having one. Even the “high” cat’s experience from catnip only lasts for an hour tops before they’re back to their normal feline selves and there’s no possibility of withdrawal, so it’s not very comparable to that of common drugs for people.
And before you ask, humans can not get high off of catnip like their cat companions, so I would suggest sticking to your usual green. However, as I said above, there are some possible human benefits to catnip, since herbalists recommend it for reducing headaches and relieving other ill symptoms such as cramps, gas, indigestion, and insomnia.
What Happens if They Have Too Much? ?
Granted it’s totally okay for cats to eat catnip, it is possible for them to get mildly sick from too much. This is known as catnip poisoning, but it isn’t as bad as it sounds.
It usually manifests as minor vomiting and/or diarrhea and the cat’s own body does a pretty good job of removing the toxin. As long as you take the plant away it usually only takes a few hours of rest and fluids for them to fully recover.
Why Do Cats Love Catnip?
The susceptibility of cats to catnip is gene dependent and passed down hereditarily, which means not all cats actually respond to the herb. But the cats that luckily do are in fact reacting to the active compound found in catnip’s essential oils called Nepetalactone, a naturally occurring active compound you can read more about here.
Cat’s experience the most intense reaction to catnip when they detect Nepetalactone through smell. Though the exact process through which this response is caused still isn’t precisely known, it’s generally thought that the compound mimics the effect of cat pheromones and is possibly associated with mating. When eaten, however, catnip tends to have the complete opposite effect, mellowing out your cat and possibly leading to a nap.
The intense response from smell usually leads to rolling, flipping, rubbing, and eventually zoning out. Cats might meow or growl, and some cats have the possibility of showing some aggression. This is especially true if you make them feel cornered or trapped. More often than not though, catnip causes cats to become more affectionate or playful and act much like their kitten days.
Regardless of these effects, most of these catnip sessions last about 10 minutes, after which your cat loses interest and calms down. It usually takes up to two hours for them to become susceptible to catnip again, but exposing them to catnip too often can lead to a tolerance that dulls the effect.
Can I Give Kittens Catnip?
Catnip is safe for kittens, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work on them. Kittens don’t typically develop a reaction to catnip until they’re between 3-6 months old. And honestly, kittens already are bundles of joy and energy and don’t really need to be stimulated by catnip.
If you are really curious if they have the catnip gene, you could start giving them a little bit periodically after they reach 3 months old to see if they have a response, but it’s likely you won’t see a response until they get closer to 6 months old.
Younger cats will have a lower tolerance, so it takes a really small amount for them to react and there’s no need to give them a lot. Their smaller bodies and smaller tolerance also means it takes less for them to get sick from it.
Should I Give My Cat Catnip?
Have you seen a cat react to catnip? It’s a pure source of joy and entertainment for not only your cat but you too. Entertainment aside though, catnip can make for a great training aid when you need to encourage your cat to use a new scratching post or sleep in her own bed. If you have trouble getting them to play, catnip can also be great encouragement to get them active and moving.
Reasons Not To
Though there are plenty of awesome reasons to periodically give your cats catnip, there are also some cases where maybe you shouldn’t. If your cat doesn’t react to catnip it would certainly be a waste of the herb and is a good reason not to buy catnip.
Some cats, usually males, can also become aggressive when affected by catnip. This is possibly due to catnip’s connection with pheromones and mating behavior, so if your cat does react this way, it’s not a great idea to give them catnip. You could try some alternatives like Valerian or Honey-Suckle, but I would definitely speak with your vet about it. At the end of the day, you should be following their professional advice, and they’ll be able to tell you what’s right for your cat.
How To Give It To Them
You can find catnip in a few different forms, the most common being powdered catnip and catnip bulbs. This is the kind that you can sprinkle around or rub on a toy or object to attract your cat. They also make pre-scented cat toys, but I prefer the raw stuff so that I can control how much I put on toys as well as maintain the freshness of the catnip. Catnip sprays have also become popular for your convenience, but I tend to stay away from these. According to PetMD, cat sprays “generally don’t contain enough nepetalactone to appeal to most felines.”
I recommend getting a fresh, high-quality organic catnip because you’ll know it’s safest for your cat. I always think about what I’m putting into my own body, and I would never give my cat anything with ingredients that I wouldn’t be comfortable with myself. It’s great to support small businesses and shop local if you can. Better yet, you could even grow your own at home for the freshest catnip possible.
What Are Your Thoughts On Catnip?
These suggestions and my advice are based on personal experience, extensive research, and secondhand accounts, but I am by no means a professional cat expert or licensed in any way. I would love to hear if you have any opinions on this topic, and I’m sure other cat parents would appreciate learning from your experience as well!
Did you wonder if catnip is safe for cats before reading this article?
Have you ever had a cat vomit or get sick from having too much catnip?
Has your cat ever built up a tolerance to catnip and become desensitized to its effects?
Let me know in the comments below!