Is Catnip Good or Bad for Cats?

The other day I put some dried catnip inside an old sock and tied it up for my cat, Libby. She found it quickly on the floor and began rolling around in a hilariously uncoordinated fashion, frantically clawing at the sock. My husband and I laughed because, well, cats going nuts over catnip is just funny.

Pretty soon, she clawed open the sock (thank goodness I had no plans of wearing it again!), and the catnip spilled out all over the floor. Then, she began eating it, and I wondered, can she eat this stuff? Is this normal? After a few bites of catnip, she disappeared for a few hours under the bed and took a nap. I wondered if it had made her sick, and I kept peeking under the bed to check on her. Within a few hours, she made her grand appearance, rolling herself all over where the catnip had been on the floor and searching for more socks full of the stuff. Haha!

Can Cats Eat Catnip?

The answer is yes! Cats can eat catnip. Catnip (Nepeta Cataria), also called catswort or catmint, is one of the approximate 250 species of the mint family, is non-addictive, and is safe for cats to eat.

What Does Catnip Do To Cats?

Cats are instinctively drawn to this fragrant herb. It is a grayish-green plant with jagged heart-shaped leaves. Both its leaves and thick stems are covered in fuzzy hairs and can grow up to three feet high. Originally from Europe and Asia, it now grows all over the United States. You have probably seen it along country roads and highways.

The chemical in catnip is nepetalactone, and it is released through the plant’s oils. Nepetalactone is released from dried catnip and catnip oils, but cats will also chew on catnip leaves to get more of this chemical.

The effect of catnip differs depending on whether a cat inhales it or eats it: When cats sniff catnip, it may make them act hyperactive, producing a stimulant effect. However, if they eat catnip, it produces the opposite effect; it acts as a pleasing sedative, which makes sense when Libby took a long nap after ingesting catnip.

Catnip doesn’t have a long-term effect. The side effects of catnip only last around 10 minutes, according to the Humane Society. However, it may take up to two hours for cats to “reset” to where they are affected by catnip again.

Interestingly, not all cats are affected by catnip. The response to catnip is hereditary, and about 50-70 % of cats are affected by it. If you find your cat is indifferent to catnip, no worries. You can use unused catnip as a natural mosquito repellant, or you can make it into a tea, which has calming properties similar to chamomile. 

Catnip Leaves

Is Catnip Bad For Cats?

There are no known nutritional benefits to catnip, but there is a psychological benefit. Catnap makes cats feel good. Catnip is not toxic to cats and is completely safe. Most cats “self-regulate” their catnip intake, meaning they just walk away from it after a few minutes.

If your cat ingests too much catnip, she’s likely to take a long nap. Some owners have stated that their cats had some stomach issues from eating too much catnip, but there are no long term negative health effects linked to catnip.

Cats generally love catnip, but it should still be given in moderation. Eating too much of it can cause too much lethargy, which is not great for a cat’s nervous system.

Can Kittens Have Catnip?

Kittens under eight weeks are immune to the chemical nepetalactone, so if you offered your kitten catnip, it’s likely he will ignore it. In fact, it isn’t until a cat’s sixth or seventh month that she will even notice it.

How Do I Give My Cat Catnip?

Catnip comes in three different forms: dried, liquid, or fresh. If you buy dried catnip, you can sprinkle it on your cat’s toys or bed. You can also put it in a sock and tie the sock up, even though your cat will probably tear the sock open like mine did. You can also put a big pinch in a small paper bag and crush it into a tight ball.  Dried catnip is the most potent in the first couple months, so if you don’t use it within then, it has probably gone stale.

Liquid catnip forms include oils and sprays. Many cat owners use catnip spray to encourage their cats to use certain toys or certain pieces of furniture. For example, if you buy your cat a new cat tree to play on and she doesn’t seem interested, spray some catnip spray on it, and it’s sure to entice her.

Fresh catnip is a great option if your cat loves catnip and can’t seem to get enough. Small catnip plants are available at most pet and home improvement stores. It is also easy to grow your catnip from seeds. The plants are easy to maintain, and you can keep fresh catnip in a sunny window in your house. If you plant it outside in your garden, do note that it is invasive and will probably overpower your other plants.

When exposed to fresh catnip, cats will rub against and chew on the leaves and stems in order to release more nepetalactone.

The Bottom Line

As a takeaway, yes, cats can eat catnip. It will act as a sedative if eaten versus a stimulant if inhaled. No, there’s nothing wrong with your cat if he takes a three-hour nap after eating catnip.

Don’t be disappointed if your cat does not respond to catnip at all. Some do, some don’t. There are catnip alternatives you can try, such as Silver Vine, Tatarian Honeysuckle, or Valerian Root. You can also try Rosemary and Peppermint, which have both been found to have a stimulant effect on cats.

What are your experiences with catnip? Do your cats love it? Are they indifferent?

David Fields is a long-time animal lover and has been blessed to share his life with many companions. A short list includes ragdoll cats, siberian husky and greyhound dogs, an African Grey parrot, many fish of all sorts, and a pandemonium of parakeet. He writes most of the articles on iPetCompanion and is regularly featured on other popular websites on the Internet.

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