Can Cats Eat Catnip? The Do’s and Don’ts of Catnip
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Can Cats Eat Catnip? The Do’s and Don’ts of Catnip

Est. read time: 8 min.

While many feline parents are familiar with catnip, you’ve probably asked yourself, can cats eat catnip? Is it safe for my cat? Is it possible to give too much to my cat? If you’re thinking of giving your cat some catnip, it can be helpful to understand exactly what it is and how it can affect your cat.

How catnip works

Catnip is the more common name of the herb Nepeta cataria. This herb is a member of the mint family and contains an oil known as nepetalactone. Nepetalactone oil produces a chemical response in a cat's brain when inhaled or ingested. This can cause different reactions among cats. You may notice your cat becomes very mellow and quiet. It’s also possible for your cat to become very excited and playful, possibly even aggressive. 

It’s important to note that catnip may only work in 50-70% of cats. This means that roughly 30-50% of cats may not have a reaction to catnip at all. This could be a result of genetic factors. You will likely know whether your cat reacts to catnip by the time they are 3-6 months old.    

Health benefits of catnip

Catnip can be good for cats. Some health benefits of your cat using catnip include reducing stress and allowing your cat to relax. If your cat reacts to catnip in a playful manner, then catnip can be beneficial in encouraging play and activity. It can also be used to help reduce skin irritations among cats. 

Another benefit of using catnip is that most pests hate the scent of catnip, and therefore, it can be used to keep mosquitos away.  

What happens to the brain after chewing catnip

When your cat smells or ingests catnip, it binds to certain receptors in your cat’s nose and mouth, which in turn send messages to your cat’s brain. It is thought that catnip can imitate increased hormones in felines and, therefore, cause your cat to behave as though they are in heat. This effect can be seen in both male and female cats. 

Most cats will start to show the effects of catnip within the first 10-15 minutes of inhaling or ingesting it. These effects can last for roughly 10-30 minutes before they begin to wear off. Once the effects have worn off, your cat may not react to catnip again for a couple of hours. 

How much catnip should you give a cat?

An important question to ask is just how much catnip should you give a cat? While catnip is safe and nontoxic, it doesn’t hurt to consult with your veterinarian before introducing your cat to catnip for the first time. As with anything, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. 

So is catnip bad for cats? The answer is no. However, while catnip will not harm your cat, it can cause an upset stomach if too much is ingested at once. It may be beneficial to start with small amounts to see how your cat will respond.

calico cat with catnip - can cats eat catnip?

Do’s and don’ts of catnip

There are many do’s and dont’s of using catnip. When using catnip with your cat, it is important to remember these helpful hints to keep your cat safe.   

Do: Give a small amount

You should always start out with a small amount of catnip when first introducing it to your cat. If you aren’t sure exactly how much to begin with, you can always consult your veterinarian for a recommended amount. Too much catnip can cause vomiting or diarrhea in your cat. Therefore, you should start small until you know how it will affect your cat. 

Do: Keep catnip in a safe place

We all know cats can climb just about anything. It is important to keep catnip in a safe place that your cat cannot get to. Most cats will stop ingesting catnip when they’ve had their fill; however, you can’t always trust your cat to know when to stop. We know too much can cause an upset stomach, so keeping catnip in an area that your cat cannot easily access will help prevent them from overindulging.   

Do: Give catnip to a cat that likes it

As always, you should monitor your cat once you have decided to introduce them to catnip. You want gauge their behavior to be sure that they enjoy it. If your cat appears to be enjoying themselves, then continue using catnip. However, if your cat becomes aggressive or begins acting in a negative manner, then you may want to avoid catnip and try finding an alternative.

Do: Use catnip to encourage play

One way for your cat to enjoy using catnip is to encourage play. You could try introducing products such as interactive toys or climbing towers—for example, this rechargeable laser pointer or the cat pyramid by Whisker. These can help your cat burn off that extra energy and provide them with the space needed to relax and play.  

Don’t: Ingest large amounts

As mentioned above, too much of a good thing can in fact become a bad thing. Ingesting too much catnip can cause vomiting and diarrhea in your cat. Your cat will likely have a bout of sickness and then recover fine. But if symptoms persist, you should contact your veterinarian. Using the Litter-Robot 3 Connect can help you to monitor your cat’s litter box usage via the app, allowing you to identify any irregularities related to bathroom habits. 

Don't: Keep fresh catnip around all the time

There are different types of catnip that can be used, such as fresh, dried, or sprayed. Some cats prefer dried catnip to fresh. If you have fresh catnip, you may ask yourself, can cats eat catnip leaves? While it is safe to consume catnip leaves, you should be sure to monitor your plant to make sure your cat is not eating too much. Fresh catnip is thought to be easier on your cat’s mouth. However, it is a live plant and will require some upkeep. 

Don’t: Give catnip to cats that react aggressively to it

Some cats can react aggressively to catnip, particularly if these cats are on the aggressive side to begin with. As always, monitor your cat when introducing catnip to make sure their behavior is enjoyable and not exacerbating. 

Don’t: Give catnip too often

Catnip should be given as a treat, preferably a few times per week. If you start giving your cat too much catnip, it can begin to build up in their system and cause their tolerance to increase. This will lead to minimal effects.

Best catnip alternatives

If you find that your cat does not react favorably, or at all, to catnip, you can try an alternative to see how they will react. Some alternatives to catnip include:

  • Silver vine: This plant is native to China and Japan and contains similar chemicals to nepetalactone, which is found in catnip. Silver vine may cause a reaction in cats that don't react to catnip.
  • Valerian root: This plant can be stimulating or used to calm your cat if they are experiencing anxiety.

Is catnip safe?

So, can cats eat catnip? Now you know that catnip is safe and nontoxic. Overall it causes a positive behavioral impact in most cats. Of course, it is possible for your cat to react in a negative way. It is always important to monitor your cat when introducing catnip to make sure it is something they will enjoy. If they don’t enjoy it, there are other alternatives you can try! 

It is also important that your cat has a space to relax and/or play when giving them catnip. Introducing cat shelves or a cat tower, such as those available by Whisker, can be a great way to give your cat their own areas to enjoy catnip.

Can catnip be used to change a cat's eating behavior?

While catnip is less likely to affect a cat's eating behavior, it is possible for it to cause a decrease in appetite due to its mellowing effect. It’s important to make sure you are not giving your cat too much catnip at once, as it could cause an upset stomach.

Can cats get addicted to catnip, especially after eating a large amount?

Science shows that catnip is not addictive. However, ingesting too much catnip can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

bengal cat sniffing pile of catnip - can cats eat catnip?


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