If you’ve ever witnessed the dramatic reaction of a cat being introduced to catnip, you will know our feline friends absolutely go nuts over anything that even faintly smells of the stuff.
Watching a cat play with catnip is so amusing and funny. But everything should be enjoyed in moderation including catnip. So, you might worry if your cat seems to be totally obsessed with its cute catnip toys. Can cats overdose on catnip?
The short answer is no, cats can’t overdose on catnip. They can get sick if they have too much of it, but it’s rare. In this article, I talk more about this plant and why it gives our cats a crazy high, alongside all the benefits of catnip.
What Is Catnip?
Catnip is an herb from the mint family. The scientific name for catnip is “nepeta cataria” and other names for it include catswort and catmint. However, the plant is best known for being a substance that cats go completely crazy for!
Why do cats go crazy for catnip? Well, the catnip plant makes a chemical called “nepetalactone” in small bulbs that are grown on the leaves, stems, and seed pods. They explode and the nepetalactone is dispersed into the air. This chemical enters your cat’s body and causes all kinds of positive effects.
The plant is native to southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and some areas of China. It is also established in northern Europe, New Zealand, and North America. However, it is believed that the Ancient Egyptians, who kept domestic cats, were the first to discover the uses of catnip.
Then the Romans are thought to have used catnip for medicinal reasons before it was recorded as being used in the Middle Ages then introduced to the USA around the 18th century. So, catnip was discovered a long time ago and used consistently for its mood-enhancing and medicinal properties.
The appearance of the plant is green with pointy leaves and thick stems that are covered in fuzzy hairs. At certain times of the year, plants will bloom with white or purple flowers. It can grow amazingly fast up to a meter high. Since it’s easy to grow and abundant in many parts of the world we are sure it will be used for many centuries to come.
Why Do Cats Like Catnip So Much?
All it takes is one little sniff of catnip and cats can act crazy. When cats smell the catnip, they have a reaction that can be described as a “high”. All cats respond slightly differently to the herb. It can make them feel happy, excited, frisky, and sometimes aggressive.
The reaction comes from the effect of the chemical nepetalactone on the body. After being inhaled, it enters your cat’s brain and binds to the “happy” receptors found here. This triggers feelings of happiness and excitement, along with periods of hyperactivity.
This also explains why many cats chew enthusiastically on catnip. Doing so releases more of the nepetalactone chemical into the air so they can get more of a high. The most nepetalactone in the air, the happier and more energetic your cat will become.
Indeed, pet professionals say catnip is a powerful stimulant and compare it to a drug. Cats really can’t help themselves when they get a smell of the intoxicating aroma. If you have seen the enthusiastic outbursts at the sight of a catnip toy you will understand how strongly cats are attracted to catnip.
What Reaction Do Cats Have to Catnip?
Reaction to Smelling Catnip
Smelling catnip causes the strongest reaction to the substance. Indeed, most cats will only need one whiff of nepetalactone to feel the effects. And when inhaled in this way catnip acts as a stimulant. In other words, their energy levels increase, and they become more hyperactive.
Despite the stimulatory effects, all cats will respond slightly differently when smelling catnip. Here are some of the ways your cat might express it is happiness and excitement about getting a whiff of catnip:
- Increased energy levels
- Sniffing and licking
- Chewing and biting
- Rolling around on the ground in a frenzy
- Shaking its head from side to side
- Being affectionate and smoochy
- Rubbing its body on things
- Drooling and producing excessive saliva
- Jumping around and acting hyperactive
- Aggression or moodiness
As I said, no two cats are the same and there is no knowing how your cat will respond to catnip until you give them a little and find out first-hand. However, reactions tend to be pretty dramatic and apparent. If your cat has had catnip, you’ll definitely know about it!
This initial dramatic reaction is usually short-lived. Typically, you can expect the initial response to go on for 5 – 15 minutes. After this point, your cat will start to settle down again. Often a cat will take a snooze after all this catnip action and physical activity. This is because the big outburst of energy tires your cat out and they need a nap to recover.
They may like to have another catnip session later in the day or might not be interested until another day. Once again, it all depends on your cat and how quickly they feel like they have their energy levels back up.
Reaction to Eating Catnip
While smelling catnip typically makes cats frisky, energized, and even aggressive, eating catnip is a different story. Ingestion of the herb actually causes your cat to mellow out. Indeed, if cats eat catnip it can act as a sedative.
When your cat eats catnip, you might notice some of the following reactions:
- Drooling from their mouths
- Purring deeply
- Reduced energy levels
- More lethargic behavior
- Falling fast asleep
Do All Cats Love Catnip?
Most cats are totally crazy for catnip. But, as I have already mentioned, not all cats respond to catnip in the same way. In fact, some cats get no reaction from smelling or eating the plant at all. Also, young kittens up to the age of 6 months sometimes don’t show any sign of enjoying catnip, but that can all change when they approach adulthood.
The attraction to catnip is hereditary. As such, there is nothing wrong with your cat if they don’t respond to catnip. These cats simply lack the “catnip gene” and so there is nowhere for the nepetalactone to bind to. This means it does not react in the body. In fact, between 50% and 30% of cats have no response to catnip. It all depends on what genes are passed down to them.
Fun fact: Big cats like tigers and lions have been exposed to catnip and displayed similar reactions to our little pet fur balls. A giant lion on a catnip buzz would be very interesting to see!
What Happens When You Give Your Cat Too Much Catnip?
The more catnip your cat gets, the more extreme the reaction will be. For example, smelling a little catnip might cause your cat to vocalize more than usual and become a little more playful. On the other end of the spectrum, a large single dose of catnip can cause cats to run around like lunatics and roll obsessively on the floor.
But you don’t need to worry about your cat having too much catnip. A cat won’t overdose or die from having too much catnip. Instead, they’ll just have a more severe response. Besides, most cats will know when they have had enough and instinctively move on to another activity. They’ll be worn out and need that recovery period, so will take themselves away from the situation.
Yet, while most cats will walk away when they have had enough, not all cats know when to stop. You can relate it to overeating. Most know when they have had enough, but some will overeat and suffer the consequences. If your cat does overindulge in catnip, your cat can get sick with diarrhea or an upset stomach. They can also become emotionally irritated and agitated if they are overexposed to catnip regularly.
If that happens put all the catnip away so your cat can’t touch any more of it. Give your cat a break from the catnip for a while. When you do reintroduce your cat to its beloved catnip make sure you only give a little to start with.
Also, bear in mind that having catnip too much can cause your cat to become desensitized to the stuff. This means you’ll have to give them more and more catnip to elicit the same response next time. This is another reason why catnip is best given as a one-off treat rather than something your cat can constantly indulge in.
Can Cats Become Addicted to Catnip?
If you search catnip memes online, you will find a world of hilarious references to cats being addicted to catnip and going to extreme (and impossible) lengths to get their paws on some. It’s so funny to see a cat go for catnip in real life so no wonder the meme creators have seen an opportunity to create some humorous kitty comedy about cats and catnip.
However, despite what the memes are saying, cats can’t get addicted to catnip. You don’t need to restrict the use or worry you are giving your cat a problem. Yet despite there being no risk of addiction, overdosing, or other major adverse effects, it is still wise to keep catnip as a treat for your cat. They’ll enjoy it more when they do have it, and it will help avoid things like an upset stomach from overindulgence.
How Can You Give Your Cat Catnip?
There are several ways that you can give your cat catnip as a treat. Doing so will surely add some excitement to their day. Plus, assuming they react well, it can be funny to watch your kitty go bonkers for a while! Below are just some of the ways you can introduce this plant into your cat’s life.
The most common way to give your cat catnip is with a toy.
On the market, you can find many catnip products including balls, springs, interactive toys, and stuffed toys. Catnip is a great incentive for cats to play and can promote healthy exercise, which is important for overall good health. Plus, as catnip fills most cats with bursts of energy, it makes sense that they have toys at the ready to expel this energy with.
You will find catnip toys online, at your supermarket, pet store, or local veterinarian. Or, if you’re feeling creative, you can easily make your own catnip toys at home by following these steps:
- Take some fresh or dried catnip and put it inside an old sock
- Knot the sock to keep the catnip safely inside
- Add the second sock over the top and tie it at the top
- Attach some string or stretch fabric and drag your homemade toy in front of your cat’s nose
It won’t take long to get an excited reaction from your cat. If your cat loves your creation it probably won’t last long. Pet toys never seem to have a long life either, even if they are quality products. The reason is pets use their toys so much and with much energy.
You could make more fancy catnip toys if you enjoyed making the sock catnip toy. But some colorful felt and cut-out shapes (fish and stars are easy to start with). Use a marker pet to draw on features and don’t forget to put the magic ingredient inside – the catnip! These also make thoughtful gifts for friends who own cats.
Handmade or shop-brought, make sure you keep the catnip toys and products safely concealed in a place your cat can’t get to. If you put the toys in a sealed bag the enchanting aroma won’t lure them. Then, whenever you want to treat your cat, get these toys out and have great fun together.
Other Cat Products
Catnip cat toys aren’t the only catnip products you’ll find at pet stores. You can also buy blankets, scratching posts and pillows scented with the alluring smell of catnip. Again, the addition of catnip will encourage your cat to use these products while making them feel happy in the meantime.
You can also make the cat products you already have smell like catnip by purchasing catnip oils or sprays from pet stores. A few spritzes on your cat’s cat tree or a scratching post will do the trick. They won’t be able to resist the smell and will be drawn to their new favorite items. The smell will fade over time, so you can top it up as and when you want to give your cat an extra treat.
If you have a green finger, you can even grow your own catnip plants at home. The best place to grow the herb is inside where there is plenty of sun and natural light. You can put your catnip with other plants if you are already growing some herbs for your own cooking or other uses. If you grow more than you need it freezes well.
Just make sure you keep the catnip plants out of reach from your kitty cat because it would surely devour the plant if given the chance. You don’t want to accidentally sedate your cat! Likewise, don’t put catnip in your pet’s food unless you want to sedate your cat.
Reasons to Give Your Cat Catnip
If your cat does respond to catnip, there are several reasons you might want to give it to them as a treat. Remember, although cats cannot overdose, small and in-frequent doses are best. This will help ensure your cat doesn’t take it too far and keeps the experience enjoyable for everyone!
So, why should you consider giving your cat catnip?
Enjoyment & Pleasure
One of the most common reasons cat owners let their cats indulge in catnip is for entertainment. It really is funny to watch a cat go crazy during a catnip session. Plus, you know your cat is enjoying the experience too. Catnip will sure add some excitement to your cat’s day. It is a win-win for both of you and provides good entertainment all around!
Helps in Training Cats
Catnip can also be useful to train your precious cat. Indeed, catnip is a powerful training aid that can be used to help them learn new behaviors and skills. It can be used as a reward for when cats do behave correctly, similar to how you might reward your cat with a treat. In many ways, catnip is preferable to using edible treats which can lead to weight gain if given to your furry friend too frequently. Whereas small doses of catnip have no negative effects.
One example would be if you want your cat to use a scratching post instead of sharpening its claws on your furniture. You can put catnip on the scratching post to speed up the learning process. They’ll be instinctively drawn to the scratching post and much prefer it to your carpets, curtains, couch, and other furniture items.
Scratching isn’t the only behavior catnip can help to correct. You can also add some catnip to your cat’s bedding to train them to know it is the right place to sleep. Sprinkling a little catnip near your cat’s litter box might also convince them to use it more frequently. In other words, you’re helping to form positive associations with these behaviors, so cats are more inclined to do them.
Makes Traveling Easier
If you are taking the dreaded trip to the vet, your cat might be unwilling to get in the cat carrier. Cats are smart and will quickly associate the cat box with an unpleasant or painful experience. Some cats will make a mad dash just at the sight of a cat carrier. Adding a sprinkle of catnip inside the cat carrier might help tempt your cat to enter without a struggle.
If you are taking a flight, especially a long-haul flight if you are moving across the country or overseas, some catnip in the cat food might be a safe and natural way to sedate your cat. Talk to your veterinarian who will be able to advise if catnip, medicine, or no sedation at all will be best for your cat.
Travel can cause your cat to be stressed out and tense. Along with comfort, love, and reassurance, some catnip might also help. If you do use catnip to sedate your cat for traveling, make sure you do a test run at home to see how much catnip your kitty needs to drift off into a dreamy, sleep state. This will help your cat reduce its stress and anxiety levels when you travel. It can also lessen the chance of your cat getting motion sickness in the vehicle.
Traveling with pets can also cause stress for the pet owner. Take it easy and remember cats have strong survival instincts and experience things much more difficult and stressful out in the wild. They won’t love traveling but they will be just fine.
Here are some more natural remedies for settling down cats during travel in case catnip doesn’t work well on your furball friend.
- Flower essences that don’t contain alcohol
- Hops in dried flower form
- Valerian, a herb that has similar effects to catnip in cats
Some veterinarian clinics, animal shelters, and animal caregivers use catnip as a soothing, non-toxic aid to calm cats down and put them into a happy state when they might be scared, stressed, or frightened.
When taken orally, catnip can also act as a natural painkiller for cats. Indeed, many scientific studies have found that this herb acts as an analgesic. This is a group of drugs that cause pain relief similar to paracetamol, ibuprofen, and codeine. Taking ingesting catnip has the potential to help your cat deal with any discomfort, in a completely natural way. Examples include headaches, toothache, and cramps.
There are several options for administering catnip orally:
- Mix a little catnip into your cat’s food
- Leave dried catnip flowers to soak in boiling water to make catnip tea
- Brew catnip in chicken broth to make it more appealing to cats
Research also indicates that catnip can help with pain from skin irritation when applied topically. This is because of its natural anti-inflammatory properties. Make another cup of catnip tea and rub a little of this solution on your cat’s irritated skin for an instant soothing effect.
The Don’ts of Giving Your Cat Catnip
Despite all of the reasons for letting your furry friend have catnip, there are some don’ts that you need to be aware of too. Abiding by these rules can ensure catnip remains the fun treat it is supposed to be:
- Don’t Give Too Much Catnip: Although there is no risk of your cat becoming addicted or overdosing on catnip, you want to limit the catnip they have. Although rare, you don’t want to make your cat cranky or sick! Stick to catnip for training purposes or as a treat now and again. If your cat does eat a little too much, try not to stress. The effects will wear off in a couple of hours.
- Don’t Give Catnip to Aggressive Cats: There is no real knowing how cats will respond to catnip until they give it a try. Some will react well, whereas others will become aggressive. If you know your cat is a bit of a bully and has an aggressive personality, there is a high chance that catnip will exacerbate these traits. Only give your cat catnip if they are calm and content most of the time, or things could get risky!
- Don’t Force Catnip on Your Cats: Anywhere between 30% and 50% of cats don’t respond to catnip, and that’s okay! There’s nothing wrong with them, they just lack the catnip gene. If your cat doesn’t respond to catnip don’t force it upon them. You can find other ways to treat your furry companion, including edible treats, long play sessions, and plenty of love and affection from you.
Fun Facts on Catnip
For humans, catnip doesn’t cause the same frenzied reaction as it does for cats. But many claim catnip tea is rather delicious.
If you’re not making catnip tea for your cat to ease pain, why not try making it for yourself? In fact, if you really wanted a (tea) party with your pet you could indulge in some catnip together. The term crazy cat lady springs to mind at the thought of someone sipping catnip tea while their pet cat rolls around deliriously at their feet.
If you are inspired here is the recipe for the woodsy-tasting brew.
- Mix two teaspoons of dried catnip leaves or flowers with a single cup of boiling water
- Add a dash of lemon juice and honey to sweeten the tea
- Stir the tea and let cool down for several minutes
As I said earlier, you might want to make catnip tea for your cat using chicken broth rather than water. Cats are not big drinkers, but the combination of chicken and catnip is something most cats won’t be able to resist!
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Cats cannot overdose on catnip, nor can they become addicted to this plant. They might love the stuff, but the most you need to worry about is an upset stomach now and again if your cat overindulges. In fact, catnip is a great addition to your cat’s life. It can fill them with happiness and enjoyment, help you teach new behaviors, and even act as a natural pain killer!
So now you know all about what catnip is, why cats like it, and even how to grow your own supply of catnip so your cat never runs out of its favorite indulgence. I hope you enjoyed this catnip article as much as your cat enjoys its catnip sessions!