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Is It True That Cats Can Be Allergic to Catnip? Feline Facts & FAQs

Cassidy Sutton

By Cassidy Sutton

catnip plants

Curious if catnip will get the best of your cat? No need to worry. Catnip is 100% safe for all cats. No evidence points to cats’ allergies to the plant, and they can’t become addicted. Still, there is a very small number of cats who might have an allergy to it.

Although it isn’t common for cats to be allergic to catnip, cats can consume too much of it. The live plant doesn’t attract humans, but it does a number on kitties that eat or sniff too much. This results in vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty walking, and dizziness.

With catnip, too much of the plant can be more harmful than helpful. Even so, you don’t need to worry about allergies. Let’s explore why this is.

All About Catnip

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is part of the mint family Lamiaceae, the same family that includes the delicious herbs spearmint, peppermint, and basil.

Plants within this family are known for being highly fragrant because of their powerful volatile oils. You know what we’re talking about if you’ve inhaled fresh mint before. This is why catnip is so effective on cats.

Nepetalactone, one of catnip’s volatile oils, attaches to receptors in the cat’s nose, mouth, and face. This activates those “happy” neurons in the brain and makes your kitty feel glorious for up to 10 minutes.

catnip plants outdoor
Image Credit: lwccts, Pixabay

Sniffing vs. Chewing

Some cats like to sniff the plant. Others want to chomp down on the leaves and stems. Both methods are effective and perfectly safe. However, they will offer slightly different effects.

Eating the plant results in a more mellow high, whereas sniffing offers the catnip craze everyone hears so much about. Sniffing is the most potent way for a cat to experience the high.

In any case, all cats react differently to the plant no matter if they sniff or chew, but common effects include:

  • Rubbing on the plant
  • Rolling around
  • Loss of focus
  • Drooling
  • Swatting
  • Zoomies
  • Napping
  • Vocalizations

After the 10-minute euphoric experience, your cat may fall into a couch lock for two to three hours.

Dried, Fresh, and Oil

Fresh catnip is far more potent than dried crisps, so you won’t need to offer as much to your cat. Only a few leaves or a couple of clippings will do.

You can also find catnip oil, the most concentrated version of catnip. Catnip oil is often too strong for cats and can lead to vomiting and diarrhea.

We recommend avoiding this version of catnip and offering the live plant or dried form instead unless your cat prefers the oil. If this is the case, be careful with how much you give your cat to avoid unpleasant side effects.

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How Much Catnip Can I Offer My Cat?

There isn’t a specific measurement for offering catnip, but cats don’t need much to experience the euphoric feeling. It’s best to start with small dosages and see how your cat reacts.

If you’re wondering why your cat is vomiting, not walking properly, or having diarrhea, it probably consumed too much catnip. Sometimes this happens when cats have unlimited access to the live plant or high potencies, like catnip oil.

All you can do is give your cat time. Eventually, the symptoms should subside. However, if you’re worried, call your veterinarian. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

cat with fresh catnip
Image By: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

Which Cats Are Affected by Catnip?

Unfortunately, catnip doesn’t work for all cats—only 50% to 70% of cats feel anything at all. Scientists believe genetics play a part. If a cat responds to catnip, its offspring will likely react to the plant.

Your cat’s age also matters. Kittens don’t develop a sensitivity to the nepetalactone in catnip until they reach 6 months to 1 year old.

If your cat gets catnip daily, it can develop a tolerance to the plant over time. This can easily be avoided with intentional moderation. Only offer the plant as a treat. That way, your cat has something to look forward to.

What Else Affects Cats Like Catnip?

If you don’t like the effects of catnip (or your cat isn’t affected by it), you can try the three plants below.

  • Valerian: Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been used as a human sedative for thousands of years. A study in 2017 revealed that Valerian affected 50 out of 100 cats. The effect was a nice high, followed by sleepiness. This may be a better option for those looking for something more mellow than catnip.
  • Silvervine: Silvervine (Actinidia polygama) is a member of the kiwi family and offers a euphoric high similar to catnip. The high may even be stronger than catnip, lasting up to 30 minutes, so offer it in small quantities.
  • Tatarian Honeysuckle: The same study that tested Valerian revealed feline favoritism for Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica). However, some states have outlawed the plant because it’s highly invasive.
heap of valerian roots
Image Credit: HandmadePictures, Shutterstock


We want to take care of our cats in the best way possible, so it’s natural to worry about what our cats eat and sniff. Thankfully, cats can’t be allergic to catnip, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have negative side effects from time to time.

The trick is to offer catnip in small quantities rather than dumping out an entire container on the cat tree. You should also avoid catnip oil.

Remember, you can always try the other herbs if catnip doesn’t sit right with you and your cat.

Featured Image Credit: lwccts, Pixabay

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