If you have a cat, you’ve likely come across catnip before. You’ll see many catnip-stuffed products in pet stores such as toy mice, and you can buy catnip sprays designed to help train your cat in using their scratching post or bed. It is often used to encourage play and good behavior.
Most cats, although not all, love catnip and it can cause drastic changes to their behavior. I remember the first time I gave my cat a catnip-stuffed mouse. She wouldn’t leave the toy alone! She was lying on the ground meowing and licking her toy continually for around an hour.
Having been interested in her shift in behavior, I started researching catnip and found that some think it can be used to treat pain. But does catnip help with pain? Interestingly, as well as making more felines happy, it also has several medicinal uses, including pain relief in humans!
In this article, I’ll run through these pain-relieving functions, as other ways you can relieve pain in cats, and how you can tell if your cat is struggling.
What Is Catnip?
Catnip is a type of herb that belongs to the same family as mint. Its scientific name is Nepeta Cataria, but its nickname that it is better known for comes from its effect the plant has on cats – they seem to go crazy for it!
The ingredient inside the plant known to trigger the commonly-seen behavior changes is a chemical called nepetalactone which the plant releases into the air. Scientists believe that nepetalactone binds to receptors in your cat’s nervous system as they inhale the chemical, which activates certain areas in the brain and makes them either hyperactive or mellow.
Catnip isn’t effective on all cats, and around 30% won’t respond to the plant. This is thought to be hereditary, and any cat that doesn’t like catnip doesn’t have the “catnip gene”. Humans also lack this gene, which is why catnip doesn’t have any mood-elevating effect on us.
Because of this intense and crazy reaction to catnip, it is commonly found in cat toys to help make their playtime more exciting and enriching. However, encouraging play isn’t the only use for catnip, and there are several other benefits, including medicinal uses, of catnip.
Does Catnip Help with Pain?
Well, when taken correctly it can. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that catnip can act as a natural analgesic both in cats and humans. Yet, more evidence is needed into exactly how effective this herb is for treating specific conditions.
Alongside pain relief, there are other medicinal benefits of catnip too! Here’s a list of all the uses catnip is thought to have.
1. Pain Relief
Some studies have found that catnip acts as an analgesic, which is a group of drugs that cause temporary pain relief. This means catnip has the potential to relieve a range of different types of pain, similar to aspirin or paracetamol. This could include headaches, toothache, cramping, and other internal pain.
To be effective at relieving pain, catnip needs to be taken orally. This is usually done by making catnip tea. To make this, simply place dried catnip flowers into a strainer and leave it to soak in boiling water. The extract from the plant will infuse the water which you can then drink. Add honey, sugar, or lemon if you like it a little sweeter.
Your cat can also safely drink catnip tea, but make sure it cools down enough as to not burn its mouth. As it will smell of catnip, any cat that responds to the plant will likely happily drink it. You can also make the tea more appetizing by brewing the tea in chicken broth instead of water.
However, cats are known for being notoriously bad drinkers and so probably won’t drink a whole cup! Whether this will be enough for it to have pain-relieving effects will depend on the severity of the pain and how much your cat drinks.
2. Muscle Relaxant
To help soothe aching muscles, research also indicates that applying catnip topically can ease the pain. Running a catnip bath is a great way to help all the muscles in your body to relax. To make, simply dissolve a tablespoon of catnip in a mug of boiling water and add it to your bath.
Again, this is something that can be used to soothe the aching muscles of both you and your cat. As soon as the catnip is added to the bath, your feline will likely come running thanks to the irresistible smell. However, some cats will falter when it comes to getting in the water. If you know your cat doesn’t mind bathtime, you should give this a go!
If not, don’t worry; catnip can also help relax muscles when taken orally. So, if you know your cat hates being bathed, you may wish to make them a cup of catnip tea and encourage them to drink it instead.
3. Stress Relief
Catnip also is an effective solution for stress and anxiety in your feline. Cats often struggle with stress as they are creatures of habit, and any slight deviations from their usual routine can be damaging. Therefore, catnip is a great way to help them unwind.
The herb is effective in treating stress firstly as it has anti-inflammatory properties. Long-term stress and anxiety lead to an increase in inflammation, and there is a strong link between mood and inflammatory responses. By reducing inflammation, you’re also reducing the feelings and side effects of stress.
Catnip also had a mild sedative effect, helping cats to relax and calm down. In fact, it is recommended that pet shelters use catnip to help their cats there feel at ease. Simply give your cat a catnip stuffed toy and, if they respond to catnip, they’ll feel relaxed in no time.
Many conditions, such as headaches, are also related to stress, thus catnip can also help to prevent pain. Besides, relaxing their muscles can also help to prevent toilet troubles caused by stress, such as diarrhea.
4. Skin Irritation Relief
Finally, and also thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, catnip can also help to soothe sore skin conditions when applied topically. If you see your cat scratching themselves more than usual, notice dry or flaky skin, or see any painful-looking rashes or bumps on their skin, catnip could offer the solution. Again, for topical application, a catnip tea bath is your best bet.
Cat a Cat Have Too Much Catnip?
Catnip is non-toxic and completely safe for cats, and can also be given to young kittens. However, many owners worry whether cats can have too much catnip, especially if you’re using it to both enhance their playtime and for pain relief or any other medicinal purposes. So, can cats overdose on catnip?
As a non-toxic plant, cats will have to eat a lot of catnip for it to have any bad effects. However, if your cat eats or inhales an excess of catnip, it can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Over the course of 1-2 hours, the effects of catnip will wear off and their sickness should stop, which can be helped further by encouraging your cat to drink more water.
As long as you’re conscious of how much catnip you give your cat, you can rest assured that they’ll be fine and won’t overdose. If inserting catnip into your cat’s toys, aim for no more than 0.5 ounces, and for catnip tea 2-3 tablespoons should be plenty to offer pain relief without the risk of overdose.
What Else Can I Give My Cat for Pain Relief?
Although catnip is known as a herbal painkiller, its effects have not been extremely well studied. Besides, if your cat doesn’t respond well to catnip – such as getting aggressive or extremely hyperactive – then using it as a pain reliever may not be the best option for you.
Many people will rely on synthetic drugs to treat pain in cats. These include drugs such as opioids and corticosteroids which are all available over the counter. However, if you’re looking for a more natural solution, you’ll be pleased to know there are a few other home remedies that you can try first.
One of the best natural painkillers that most people have in their homes already is turmeric. As with catnip, turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce any swelling that makes the pain worse. It is also known to calm the symptoms of arthritis and cancer.
What’s more, some studies have found it also helps to improve circulation, helping your cat to get blood to where they need it quickly and easily. This is hugely beneficial as the blood is what transports all the nutrients and chemicals needed for rapid healing, helping to promote a speedy recovery if your cat is unwell or injured.
To give your cat turmeric, you’ll need to make a turmeric paste from regular turmeric powder and water. Simply place a tablespoon of turmeric in a pan along with a cup of water and stir as the mixture comes to a boil and forms a paste. Wait for it to cool down and add a little to your cat’s food next feeding time.
Alternatively, you can buy pre-made turmeric oils. These can either be given to your cat to eat, or you can use the solution topically by rubbing a little onto the area of their body that is in pain.
Like catnip, chamomile is also a herb that works as a muscle relaxant, sedative, and anti-inflammatory product. It can therefore be used topically to reduce skin irritation and associated pain or to treat discomfort caused by internal inflammation, such as of the GI tract. Besides, it is effective in easing cramping and helping muscles to relax.
Chamomile is also a well-known mental relaxant and many of us drink chamomile tea to help us unwind at night. It can, therefore, also be used to help treat stress and anxiety in cats. This can help to ease and prevent any stress-related pain.
To give your cat chamomile extract, you can give your cat chamomile tea or use the powder in their food. You can also purchase chamomile oil which can be applied topically. It is important to note that chamomile can be toxic in large doses, so always speak to your vet and measure the amount you’re administering carefully.
How Do I Know if My Cat Is in Pain?
It can be hard to know whether your cat is in pain or not – after all, they cannot communicate this to us verbally. Instead, we need to keep an eye on their behaviors to notice the symptoms of pain. Common signs of pain include:
- Loss of Appetite: Your cat may have pain in its mouth, stomach, or anywhere else along its gastrointestinal tract. A loss of appetite can also indicate that they are feeling too weak because of pain elsewhere.
- Excessive Vocalization: Cats can meow because they want food, attention, or be let outside and this is nothing to worry about. However, if your cat suddenly starts vocalizing more than usual then they’re probably trying to tell you that something is wrong.
- Limping: If your cat has hurt its paw or leg, you may also notice them struggling to move around and limping in pain.
- Weakness: Cats love sleeping and often spend most of their days curled up. Yet, if your cat seems overly tired and has lost interest in things they usually love, such as exploring and playing, it’s a sure sign they’re in pain.
So, does catnip help with pain? Unbeknown to many, yes! Your cat simply inhaling catnip from their toys will not be enough to ease pain, but it can reduce stress and thus ease stress-related pain. To treat other types of internal pain you can feed your cat catnip tea, and for external pain or skin irritation, you can apply catnip topically, such as a catnip bath.
Besides, catnip isn’t just for cats! While humans don’t feel the same high from catnip that our feline friends do, it can still act as a herbal pain reliever and has heaps of benefits for both of us.