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Can Cats Overdose on Catnip? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ

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By Nicole Cosgrove

cat eating catnip

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Many cats love the sensation of catnip. They get euphoric and start acting silly. Some people enjoy giving their cats catnip on a regular basis in order to evoke this joyful reaction. Cats may love catnip, but how much catnip is too much catnip? Can cats overdose on catnip?

The reaction that cats have to catnip makes people think about illegal drugs. It is a funny image and the closest comparison that most people can make to the effects of catnip. Catnip is not a drug. It does not function the same way as people imagine drugs working in humans. That means that cats cannot overdose on catnip. But catnip can make them sick if they ingest too much. Continue reading to learn more.

Eating Catnip vs. Smelling Catnip

Catnip can work two ways on a cat. The first way is that a cat smells catnip. Catnip contains an organic chemical called nepetalactone. This chemical is the main culprit for how cats react when they interact with catnip. Nepetalactone can start acting immediately on cats when they smell it. This unique chemical mimics a pheromone response in cats which causes a reaction in the pleasure centers of the cat’s brain. Cats can get a very strong reaction by simply smelling the catnip.

Cats can also get a reaction from catnip by eating it. Some cats love to eat catnip, and that is the reason that some pet owners like to put their catnip into paper bags or socks to prevent cats from immediately eating the catnip. When cats eat catnip, it has a very different effect from when they smell catnip. Eating catnip results in a calming effect. It causes cats to chill out and get sleepy. Smelling catnip makes cats go bonkers, so the two reactions are very distinct and noticeable.

catnip dried leaves
Image Credit: Gaston Cerliani, Shutterstock

Why Can’t Cats Overdose on Catnip?

A cat cannot react too strongly from simply smelling the catnip. After ten minutes, a cat will receive a maximum dose of nepetalactone via the vomeronasal organ and then start to lose interest. It takes two hours for the effects to wear off fully. In the meantime, no more scent is going to add to the sensation or cause an overdose.

A cat can get sick if they eat too much catnip. The amount of catnip it takes for a cat to get sick varies, but it is usually a very large amount. Most cat owners don’t provide their cats with enough of the plant to sicken their cat. However, if a cat eats way too much catnip in a short period of time it can cause them to have vomiting and diarrhea. This is not an overdose. This response is no different than if a cat eats too much grass or eats too much food in a short period of time. A large amount of catnip will simply give a cat a stomachache, not an overdose.

Signs a Cat Is on Catnip

There are some very noticeable signs that a cat is on catnip. They start acting extremely funny. They roll around, drool, meow, or growl. They get playful or chatty when they usually are quiet and reticent. Here are some of the most common signs that your cat is responding to catnip:

  • Head shaking
  • Rubbing chin and cheeks
  • Rolling
  • Vocalization
  • Euphoria
  • Excitement
  • Depression
  • Aggression

Some cats get moody and depressive on catnip. Some aggressive cats that play rough and are prone to scratching sometimes get more aggressive on catnip. You should always monitor your cat on catnip to learn its behaviors and its quirks.

Gray Cat Enjoying Fresh Catnip
Image Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

How Long Does Catnip Last?

Catnip does not last very long. Generally, catnip wears off in 10 to 15 minutes after being smelled or ingested. After roughly 15 minutes, a cat will start to lose interest in the catnip as the effects slowly wear off. Some cats will react to catnip for up to 30 minutes, but that is usually the longest a cat will remain interested in catnip. This relatively short period of intensity, coupled with the time it takes to reset after interacting with catnip (2-3 hours), makes it very difficult for cats to get any adverse effects from the plant.

Final Thoughts

Cats cannot overdose on catnip for a number of reasons. First, most of the drug-like symptoms of catnip use come from an olfactory chemical that enters via the nose. It is impossible to overdose like that for a cat. Second, catnip wears off quickly, leaving cats disinterested after just minutes. If a cat eats too much catnip, it can get a stomach ache, leading to vomiting or diarrhea, but that is the extent of the negative effects. Cats also have to eat a ton of catnip to get to that point, so even those side effects are exceedingly rare.

Featured Image Credit: Doug McLean, Shutterstock

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