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Can Cats Eat Catnip? What You Need to Know!

Sarah Psaradelis

By Sarah Psaradelis

catnip plants
Image Credit: lwccts, Pixabay

Most cat owners are not familiar with whether their cat can eat catnip or even if it is safe. No evidence suggests catnip is not harmful to both adult cats and kittens to consume. There is a possibility that catnip can cause them to have an upset stomach accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting in severe cases.

However, you should ideally offer catnip to your cat in moderation, so even if your cat does consume large amounts of catnip, it should not be harmful to them.

What Is Catnip and How Does It Work?

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a plant that is a member of the mint family. The main active ingredient that gives cats the ‘drug’ effects is nepetalactone. This active ingredient is produced in the bulbs coating the leaves, stems, and seed pods of the plant, and when these bulbs rupture, this ingredient is released into the air.

It is for this reason that you may notice your cat chewing on the plant as they are trying to encourage the plant to release more nepetalactone.

Catnip is native to Europe and Asia, where it grows across the country near highways and roads. The plant is a greyish green with jagged heart-shaped leaves with thick stems covered in fine fuzzy leaves that helps make identifying this plant easier.

catnip plant
Image Credit: Piqsels

There are many experts that believe the chemical nepetalactone acts as a feline attractant that triggers a happy feeling response. Therefore, once your cat smells catnip, it will begin to roll, rub, chew and try to release the trapped oils in the plant’s leaves. The chemical then enters the cats’ sensory neurons that line their nasal cavity. These sensory neurons control their emotions and behavior, which catnip most affects them. The scent organ that picks up nepetalactone is called the vomeronasal organ located in the root of their mouth.

Catnip also mimics feline sexual hormones, which is why female or male cats will experience a response like a cat in heat, which causes them to be overly affectionate, active, and playful. In higher dosages, your cat may even experience temporary alleviation from pain, discomfort, and anxiety.

Is Catnip Bad for Cats to Eat?

If your cat has decided to take a nibble at catnip plants you’re growing or eaten a commercial bag of prepared catnip, then there is no real risk you need to worry about. Catnip is safe for your cat to consume in small amounts, and they will still get to experience the positive side effects unless they are eating large quantities of catnip regularly.

The catnip plant may even have anti-diarrheal properties, so small amounts of catnip can help improve your cat’s digestion. However, if your cat eats a large portion of catnip, it may experience adverse effects such as vomiting and diarrhea, which may need medical treatment.

There is a concern when cats overdose on catnip, and you will be able to tell if this is the case by observing your cat. If they are overly dizzy, unable to walk, vomiting, and having diarrhea, it is likely they have overdosed and eaten too much catnip. Fortunately, a catnip overdose is rarely fatal.

Cat vomiting
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

What Happens to Cats When They Eat Catnip?

Observing your cat’s response to the effects of catnip can be entertaining. You may notice that they stumble around, seem disorientated, and hyperactive by jumping around and playing with toys or the air. In some instances, your cat may even drool or take a relaxing nap. An improved mood and relaxed state are common responses most cats will experience, and if you follow the correct dosages with guidance from your cat’s veterinarian, you can give catnip to your cat as a treat.

For cats who have a positive experience with catnip, they will become very mellow. This is why so many cat owners recommend using it on their hyperactive cat. Catnip will only stay in a cat’s system for 10 to 15 minutes before it wears off. The amount of catnip your cat eats or sniffs will cause it to experience a stronger or milder effect.

Interestingly, kittens do not develop the ability to respond to catnip like adult cats do, but they will once they reach three to six months of age.

tabby cat savoring catnip in the garden
Image Credit: Badon Hill Studio, Shutterstock

How Much Catnip Can Cats Eat?

It is important to note that fresh catnip is more potent than the dried form, which means if you are giving your cat catnip oils, leaves, or other parts of a fresh plant, you should give less than you would if it was dried processed catnip (commonly sold in pet stores).

Always discuss the correct dosage of catnip you should give with your cat’s veterinarian to prevent an overdose from occurring. If you have a cat that likes to eat the growing plants, then it is best not to grow the plants near your cat. You can alternatively grow them in a small enclosed container or section covered with mesh to keep your cat out.

Final Thoughts

It is reassuring to many cat owners that catnip is safe for cats to eat. If you are vigilant with how much catnip you give your cat and work closely with a veterinarian, then you do not have to worry and your cat can safely enjoy the catnip you give them.


Featured Image Credit: lwccts, Pixabay

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