Do Cats Eat Catnip: Separating Fact From Fiction

Do Cats Eat Catnip

If you’re a cat owner or have spent any time around cats, you’ve probably heard of catnip. This mysterious herb has a unique effect on cats, but what exactly is catnip and why do cats go crazy for it?

I’ve gathered all the essential information to answer your burning questions: Do cats eat catnip? What are the effects of catnip on cats? And is catnip safe for cats to consume? 

Let’s dive in and explore the world of catnip and its relationship with our beloved furry companions.

The Basics of Catnip

I probably don’t need to tell you that catnip is known to be a NATURAL MOOD ENHANCER for our cats.

It’s true. Who wouldn’t notice that cats go crazy for catnip?

In fact, many cat owners have observed their furry friends exhibiting curious behavior after INGESTING or SMELLING catnip. 

One such cat owner is Martha, who noticed changes in her three kittens after they were introduced to catnip for the first time.

Two of her kittens become affectionate, seeking attention and cuddles, while the third becomes frisky and playful, running around the house as if chasing an invisible prey.

So, the question is 

What’s the reason behind this curious behavior? 

Let’s dive into the basics of catnip and find out.

What Is Catnip?

Why Do Cats Go Crazy When Giving Them Catnip?

It’s a herb that belongs to the mint family, can live for years, and can commonly be found in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean regions. 

But did you know that it also grows in Europe and North America? It’s pretty amazing how widespread this herb is!!

Catnip also has several nicknames such as Catmint, Nepeta Cataria, and Catwort.

The plant itself has light, green, and loose leaves that look like feathers with lavender flowers.

Why Is This Plant Important?

This is because catnip has numerous benefits, such as:

  • It’s the primary ingredient in some natural bug repellents because most pests dislike the catnip smell.
  • People use catnip leaves to make tea.
  • The flowers of catnip have cough-relieving properties.
  • The catnip plant has anti-diarrheal properties. 

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The bottom line here is that:

While many people are familiar with catnip and believe it to be SAFE for themselves, they may not know whether or not it is SAFE FOR CATS TO EAT CATNIP and why some cats go crazy for it.

This takes us to the next part of this chapter about the composition of catnip, which can help us understand How It Really Affects Cats’ Behaviors And Moods.

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CHEMICAL COMPOSITION OF CATNIP

is catnip safe for cats to consume

Nepetalactone is the main player when it comes to identifying the active compound in catnip.

According to Wikipedia nepetalactone is the oil found in catnip leaves that stimulates a chemical response in a cat’s brain.

How Does Catnip Affect Cats Behaviors?

Many of us refer to catnip as a “drug” for cats, so it’s natural to be curious about how this plant affects our feline friends’ behaviors.

Well, Once a cat is exposed to catnip (smell or ingestion) it can react in different reactions. Some cats may exhibit behavioral changes, while others may not react at all.

So, what happens if a cat eats catnip?

When a cat detects the smell of catnip using its vomeronasal gland, an additional scent organ located in the roof of their mouth, a signal is sent to the brain. 

This, in turn, triggers a reaction to the Nepetalactone Oil present in the catnip, resulting in psychological effects that alter the cat’s behavior.

But how can you tell if your cat’s behavior has changed?

To get an expert opinion, I reached out to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a leading veterinarian at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine., and here’s what I learned:

The cat’s response to catnip can be broadly classified into THREE main types:

  1. Mild Sedative Effect, Such As Chewing, Head Shaking, And Licking: In some cases, your cat may display more affectionate or playful behavior, or become quieter. They may also tend to roll around or rub their face against the source of the catnip.
  1. Excitable Behavior, Like Rubbing Their Body And Rolling Over Their Head: Your cat may exhibit active, frisky behavior, including moments of aggression.

While engaging in these behaviors, they may make many meowing or growling noises.

  1. Sensory Perception: Catnip produces effects that are similar to feline sex hormones, which can stimulate mating behavior.

So yeah,

Catnip could mimic the effect of a cat pheromone similar to that of a female cat in heat, and both male and female cats can experience its effects.

In short, 

When cats come into contact with catnip, they can exhibit a range of behaviors, from relaxation and leaps to happiness, stretching, gazing off into space with a blissful expression, or sexual stimulation.

What fascinates me is that veterinarians suggest using catnip to alleviate anxiety levels in cats left alone at home for extended periods and even to ease the pain.

Do Cats Eat Catnip Or Smell It?

Did you know that the ASPCA actually classifies catnip as toxic to cats? However, the Pet Poison Helpline claims that it’s perfectly safe for our felines. (Surprising, but true!)

This conflicting information can leave cat owners confused about whether or not their cats can safely eat catnip.

So, here’s the truth:

CATS CAN EAT CATNIP without any problem.

Of course, like with any plant matter, if cats eat too much of it, they may experience health issues.

But let’s be honest – it’s highly unlikely that a cat would try to eat a full meal of catnip! (It is considered a herb, not a food)

That being said, eating too much catnip can cause some tummy troubles. 

Yep, that’s right – digestive upset is a potential risk if your cat overindulges in this common herb. 

While it’s generally safe for cats to consume catnip in moderation, it’s still important to monitor how much they’re eating.

Furthermore, many veterinarians have observed changes in a cat’s behavior when they’re exposed to the smell of catnip. This further supports the idea that cats can safely eat catnip in small amounts. (NOT SMELL)

What’s really important here is to remember that MODERATION is key. Whether it’s catnip or any other plant matter, it’s best to offer it in small amounts to avoid any potential health issues. After all, our cats’ well-being should always be our top priority!

And if your cat is showing signs of negative behavior, it’s best to limit their intake or try to find another alternative, even if they enjoy catnip.

Additionally, I believe it’s important to create the perfect environment for your cat, which should include cat toys, scratching boards, and cat towers. By doing so, your cat can enjoy playtime while also relaxing and indulging in catnip.

The bottom line is that catnip is completely SAFE for cats to eat without any worries.

But, I understand that some cat parents might still have some concerns or questions about catnip, so let’s talk about those.

For example:

Can cats actually get addicted to catnip?

Some may wonder if cats can become addicted to catnip in any form, whether it is fresh, dried, sprayed, or even in oil extract. The good news is that catnip is NOT actually addictive to cats.

However, as I mentioned earlier, eating large amounts of catnip can lead to health problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea.

So, it’s crucial to monitor your cat’s intake and ensure they ingest it in moderation.

Is it possible to change a cat’s eating behavior using catnip?

Well, the truth is that catnip doesn’t have a significant impact on a cat’s eating behavior. 

Why?

That’s because the effects of catnip are short-lived, and it’s usually given to cats as a recreational treat.

In fact, some cats may actually lose their appetite due to the catnip’s calming properties.

For instance,

If you give your furry friend too much catnip all at once, they may end up with an upset stomach.

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Can Cats Eat Too Much Catnip? And What The Risks Of This Behavior?

You may be wondering, what would happen if your cat eats too much catnip?

Well, I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth repeating.

Catnip itself is harmless to cats. However, if your cat overdoses on catnip, it could lead to a mild upset stomach. 

so, In case your kitty shows severe symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, it’s crucial to seek veterinary assistance right away.

But that’s not the only concern when it comes to consuming too much catnip. 

Upon closer inspection of the catnip plants, you’ll notice that they mainly contain fiber, which is challenging to digest. Moreover, your cat won’t receive any nutritional value from eating catnip.

So, while catnip can be a fun treat for your furry companion, make sure to limit the amount they eat and provide them with a balanced diet for their overall health and well-being.

Does Catnip Make Cats Sleepy?

The short answer is, indeed, yes! Catnip makes the cat sleepy, but there’s a catch. 

Let me explain.

As I mentioned before, cats have various ways of reacting to catnip. It all depends on how they’re exposed to it.

For example,

If a cat eats catnip, the nepetalactone in the plant will mimic the pheromones that most cats release when they’re feeling content. This can cause them to purr, drool, become giddy with pleasure, and potentially even fall asleep.

Sniffing catnip, on the other hand, can cause hyperactivity in cats and show behaviors like rubbing their faces and bodies.

So, if you’re looking to use catnip to calm your feline friend, it’s worth a shot, but it might not work for all cats. additionally, it’s always important to monitor your pet’s behavior and check with your veterinarian if you have any concerns.

Related topic: 8 Reasons Why Cats Love To Scratch Mirrors At Night.

What Is The Duration Of Catnip’s Effects On Cats?

Did you know it’s possible to have different duration of catnip’s effects on cats depending on the cat? 

It’s true. 

Overall, if your cat smells catnip, it’ll usually exhibit excitement behaviors that can last for roughly 10 minutes. Once that time is up, the effects gradually wear off.

After that, it typically takes cats between 30 minutes to a few hours before they become receptive to the effects of catnip again.

However, there are some cats – about 30% of them – who don’t seem to respond to catnip at all. This is because they lack the receptors that are responsible for the effects of catnip.

So, if you’ve tried giving your cat catnip and they didn’t seem interested or react to it, they might just be part of that 30%.

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How To Introduce Catnip To Cats?

I personally recommend using catnip as a training treat for my cat. 

This way you can encourage your cat to respond to certain behaviors, such as using the scratching post or the litter box or even sleeping in their designated spot.

Of course, there are many forms of catnip available that you can give to your cat.

For example

  • Dry catnip
  • Fresh catnip
  • Catnip sprays
  • Toys with dried catnip

But the question remains: how can you use catnip to benefit your cat?

Here are a few of my favorite ways to use catnip with my cats:

I like to sprinkle dried catnip on my cat’s scratching post, cardboard scratcher, cat tree, and even on the ground. I’ve noticed that this helps my cat relax and enjoy the area.

One time, I even rolled my cat’s favorite toy in catnip oil and she absolutely loved it!

You can also purchase pre-scented catnip toys or toys that are stuffed with catnip for your furry friend to play with.

Before introducing catnip to your cat for the first time, keep these three quick notes in mind:

 Firstly, if your cat has a sensitive stomach or experiences digestive issues, it’s best to opt for catnip sprays rather than fresh plants. This can help avoid any potential stomach upset.

Secondly, it’s a good idea to start with a small amount of catnip and observe your cat’s reaction. 

This can help you gauge whether or not your cat has any adverse side effects, and can also give you a better idea of how much your cat can handle.

And lastly, it’s important not to overdo it with the catnip. Even small amounts can have a powerful effect on cats, so there’s no need to go overboard.

How Often To Give Your Cat Catnip?

I’ve found that, if a feline friend seems to enjoy catnip, there’s no harm in introducing it (lick or inhale) several times a week. 

In fact, this amount is perfectly safe for any cat.

However, it’s important to keep an eye on how much catnip your cat is eating to prevent any potential problems such as digestive issues or stomach upset.

To be on the safe side I recommend consulting the veterinarian to learn the best practices and recommended amounts for giving catnip to your cat.

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How Much Catnip Can My Cat Have?

I’ve talked about this point before.

Although catnip won’t hurt cats, it’s important NOT to let them consume too much of it.

 If they do, they may experience unpleasant symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.

Don’t worry, your cat should recover fairly quickly. However, in some cases, it may be necessary to seek the help of a veterinarian.

As it turns out, relying on your cat to self-regulate its catnip intake is not a good idea.

The truth is, cats won’t stop indulging until they’ve had their fill. 

Therefore, it’s up to you to give them catnip in moderation to ensure their safety and well-being.

Can Cats Eat Dried Catnip?

The good news is that it is allowed to give your cat both fresh and dried catnip.

Dried catnip is commonly used in cat toys as it retains its potency for longer periods of time. 

Overall, both fresh and dried catnip can be a fun and safe addition to your cat’s playtime and relaxation routine.

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Tips For Catnip Use

What Age Can Kittens Have Catnip?

Catnip is totally safe for kittens, so it’s perfectly fine to let them ingest catnip at any age.

 However, it’s important to note that they might not react to it until they’re at least 6 months old.

As kittens get older, they usually lose interest in catnip and become less curious about it.

Naturally, every rule has its exceptions, so it’s worth mentioning that only around 50-70% of cats will actually respond to catnip and exhibit corresponding behavioral reactions. A recent study conducted by the University of Liverpool suggests that this may be attributed to genetic factors.

Precautions To Keep In Mind When Using Catnip With Your Cat

So cats can eat catnip without any harm, but there are two cases where issues can arise. For example, 

Firstly, if your cat is already in an AGGRESSIVE MOOD, eating catnip can actually double its aggression.

Secondly, if your cat consumes TOO MUCH catnip, it can develop a tolerance to the active compound, resulting in reduced reactions to catnip over time.

Fortunately, you can easily prevent these scenarios and ensure your cat’s well-being.

The key is to control the amount of catnip you give your cat and observe its behavior to determine if it’s enjoying the effects.

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How To Avoid Overstimulating Your Cat With Catnip?

You may already know that cats exposed to excessive amounts of catnip can suffer from health problems.

I’ve gathered all the essential information to help you prevent overstimulating your cat with catnip.

Let’s break this down,

  1. Avoid using too much fresh catnip, as it’s stronger than dried catnip.
  2. Use catnip oil with a lower concentration.
  3. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate amount of catnip for your cat.

By implementing these tips, your cat can enjoy a playful experience with catnip while ensuring its well-being. Plus, you can enjoy the company of your furry friend without worrying about any negative effects.

How To Store Catnip Properly?

One of the cats’ natural habits is to jump and climb around their surroundings. Therefore, I highly recommend storing catnip away from their reach in areas that are not easily accessible.

This way, you can ensure that your cat won’t overindulge in it.

Moreover, it’s advisable to keep the dried catnip and any catnip-stuffed toy in an airtight container to maintain maximum freshness and prevent the volatile oils from evaporating.

Catnip Alternatives

If your cat doesn’t react to catnip or has had a bad experience with it, you may be wondering if there are other alternatives that could calm your cat or reduce its anxiety.

Luckily, there are alternatives to catnip, such as

  • silver vine
  • Valerian root
  • honey-suckle

Can Cats Eat Catnip FAQs 

Is It Ok To Give A Cat Catnip Everyday?

Obviously, it’s not a good idea to give a cat catnip everyday, as that is not a normal routine.

Instead, it’s recommended to introduce catnip to your cat once every two weeks to avoid overexposure and habituation.

It’s important to keep in mind that young cats may not react to catnip and providing them with too much won’t make a difference. 

This is because they won’t develop sensitivity to catnip until they reach about six months old. So, don’t be fooled into thinking your kitten doesn’t like catnip, and avoid overdoing it until they’re old enough to enjoy it.

Why Do Cats Go Crazy When Giving Them Catnip?

Cats go crazy after eating catnip due to the nepetalactone chemical in their brains.  It’s believed that this euphoric reaction is similar to the effects of hallucinogenic drugs in humans. No wonder some people refer to catnip as “cat marijuana.”

Is It Allowed For Pregnant Cats To Eat Catnip?

To keep pregnant cats safe, veterinarians generally advise against letting them eat catnip. This is because it may carry potential risks, such as inducing labor.

Are Catnip Leaves Safe For Cats?

The answer is Yes, it’s safe for cats to eat both dried and fresh catnip leaves. However, it’s important to avoid giving your cat too much of it to prevent sickness.

Is It Safe For Cats To Eat Catnip Flowers?

There is no evidence to suggest that catnip flowers are harmful to cats or young kittens.

Final Words

Interestingly enough cats can eat catnip without any harm as long as it’s given in moderation. It’s important to be aware of the potential risks and to monitor your cat’s behavior after consuming catnip.

Remember, there are also alternative options to catnip if your cat doesn’t react well to it. By following these guidelines, you can safely and responsibly give your furry friend a playful and enjoyable experience with catnip.

Author

Marsha T. Scott is the founder and chief editor of catzmag.com.
Our goal is to provide the most up-to-date and expert advice on cat nutrition available online. We’re partnering with some of the best and most experienced cat nutritionists and veterinarians to provide you with the best advice for feeding your cat.