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CAT CARE > Cat Health > What Is Catnip & Is It Safe for My Cat?

What Is Catnip & Is It Safe for My Cat?

A quick Q&A on the good and misunderstood about catnip.

What exactly is catnip?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is one of 250 species of mint.1

Why does it make one of my cats crazy and not even affect my other cat?

The essential oil in catnip can turn one lazy cat into one crazy cat only if the cat has inherited sensitivity to catnip’s effects. This trait doesn’t emerge until a cat is around three to six months old.1

Catnip sensitivity is hereditary and it’s estimated that approximately half of cats have no reaction, while the other half are highly affected by catnip.1

Why exactly is my cat crazy for catnip?

When cats who are affected by catnip get a whiff of it, the scent targets the “happy” receptors in a cat’s brain. However, when a cat eats the catnip, it tends to have the opposite effect. The catnip acts as a sedative and the cat will often mellow out, roll around, flip, rub themselves on furniture, or zone out, and some cats may even get aggressive and growl or meow.

Either way, these moods often last about 10 minutes, after which the cat will reset and become their normal, furry selves again.2 The cat won’t have another reaction to more catnip until about 30 minutes after they’ve had their initial dose of catnip.3

Does catnip get my kitty high?

Yes, in a way. The main ingredient in catnip is a stimulant that produces a “high” that, for your cat, is similar to either marijuana or LSD.2 This is why he looks like he’s in a trance after eating or sniffing catnip.

Can my cat overdose on catnip?

Although cats are unlikely to overdose on catnip, they can get sick and have diarrhea or vomit from eating too much of it — whether that means they’ve consumed all of the catnip hidden in their toys, or too much catnip oil is rubbed onto them.2

Trust your cat to know when she’s had enough, and be mindful of how much catnip you feed her, too. After all, catnip is meant to be a treat, so be sure to only give her catnip in limited doses, not as her regular meals.

So, is catnip safe to feed my cat?

Yes, catnip has been proven safe for cats. In fact, people used to use catnip to brew tea and soothe upset stomachs (catnip doesn’t affect people the way it affects cats).4 Catnip isn’t toxic or addictive, and it can be used as a reward or training aid.

Although, again, be mindful of how much catnip you’re giving your cat since, as mentioned above, excessive amounts may cause your cat to get sick, and maybe even have short spells of diarrhea or vomiting.1 Try not to indulge them more than every two or three weeks.2

Plus, if you give your cat too much catnip, his body may acclimate to it, and the exciting effects that it usually gets will wear off over time. If you spread out how often your cat receives catnip, he’ll still reap the benefits of it.

Should I put catnip in my cat’s food?

No. It’s best to save catnip to rub onto scratching posts, stuff into their toys, or sprinkle it into a new bed so she can adjust to a new environment.

Although catnip is available in spray forms, we’d recommend using the dry type that’s often found in a package. Plus, it’s always fun to shake the package and see how your cat reacts — she’s likely to get very excited!

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  1. Crazy for catnip. (n.d.).
  2. Coates J. (n.d.). Does catnip really get your cat high? Facts about your cat’s favorite plant.
  3. How does catnip work its magic on cats? (2007).
  4. Nepeta cataria effects on humans. (n.d.).