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What Does Catnip do to Cats? | Catnip Side Effects and Safety 

Apr 19, 2024 | Cat, For Your Pet, Pet Safety

What Does Catnip Do to Cats: Catnip Side Effects and Safety


If you’ve ever owned a cat or spent time around one, you might have encountered the curious phenomenon of catnip. But what exactly is catnip, and why do cats seem to go wild for it? In this blog, we’ll explore the ins and outs of catnip, its effects on cats, and whether it’s safe to give to our feline friends.  




What Is Catnip?  

Catnip, scientifically known as Nepeta cataria, is an herbaceous plant belonging to the mint family. It’s native to Europe and Asia but is now commonly found across North America as well. The plant produces a chemical compound called nepetalactone, which is responsible for its peculiar effects on cats. When ingested, the compounds are secreted into the cat’s urine.   

What Catnip Does to Cats  

Cat being playful after catnipSo, what does catnip do to cats? Well, when cats encounter catnip, it triggers intense reactions. Smelling it can make them go wild, but eating it tends to calm them down. Catnip seems to affect special receptors in a cat’s brain that make them feel happy.  

The most common reactions you can expect from your cat are rolling around, flipping, and rubbing against things. In some cases, they may even meow or growl, and others may become hyperactive or aggressive towards people or other cats. It is important to note that the response to catnip in cats is highly individualized, and some may not have a reaction to it at all.  

Do Cats Get High on Catnip?  

Yes, cats do appear to experience a sort of high when exposed to catnip. The nepetalactone in catnip binds to receptors in a cat’s nasal tissue, which then acts as a stimulant, resulting in a temporary behavioral change. This change can manifest as increased activity, rolling, rubbing, purring, or even playful aggression. 

How Long Do the Effects of Catnip Last?  

The effects of catnip typically last for about 10 to 15 minutes, after which your cat will gradually return to its normal behavior. After the initial catnip dose, it may take up to two hours for your cat to become susceptible to its effects again. However, some cats may become desensitized to catnip with frequent exposure, so it’s best to use it sparingly to maintain its effectiveness. 

Is Catnip a Drug? Cat Playing with Cat toy after catnip

Catnip isn’t a drug in the traditional sense. Any plants with chemically active compounds ARE considered drugs in the traditional sense, but catnip is not illegal, addicting, or unsafe when used appropriately. The effects of catnip on cats can be likened to a mild recreational drug experience. When cats come into contact with catnip, whether by sniffing, licking, or rolling in it, they often exhibit behaviors that might be described as intoxicated or euphoric.  

Is Catnip Okay to Give to Cats?  

Many cat owners wonder whether it’s safe to give catnip to their pets. The good news is that catnip is non-toxic to cats and generally considered safe for them to interact with in small doses. However, it’s essential to monitor your cat’s behavior, especially if it’s their first encounter with catnip. This is mainly because although catnip may not be harmful to cats, they can accidentally hurt themselves when bouncing around the room after the effects take place. It is also important to monitor any signs of aggression in your cat towards people or other animals. If aggression is observed, it is best to stay away from catnip in the future.  

The only time that catnip can be bad for cats is if they end up eating too much of it. As you would expect, too much of a good thing can lead to bad effects. This is also true in the case of catnip which can cause cats to experience dizziness, upset stomach, diarrhea, and vomiting. When giving your cat catnip, start with small doses, especially if it is their first time.  

Though there are no serious dangers catnip poses to our furry friends, it is important to note that there are many other plants that can cause problems for your cat. Make yourself aware of which plants to look out for by checking out our blog about toxic plants for pets.  

Is Catnip Safe for Kittens?  

While you may want to let your new kitten try catnip, you may be underwhelmed by the result. This is because kittens are less likely to be affected by catnip. It’s recommended to wait until your kitten is at least six months to a year old before introducing them to catnip to ensure their developing systems can handle it without issue.  

How Much Catnip Is Too Much?  

While catnip is generally safe, moderation is key. It is typically non-addictive and safe for cats to eat or sniff in small amounts. If you’re giving your cat catnip for the first time, it does not take a large dose for them to start feeling the effects. It’s best to start small with a tiny pinch of fresh or dried catnip, or a single catnip treat and watch how they react.  Too much catnip can overstimulate your cat, leading to temporary discomfort or digestive issues. It’s best to limit your cat’s exposure to catnip to prevent any adverse reactions.  

Can Cats Overdose on Catnip?  

While it’s rare for a cat to overdose on catnip, eating too much of it in one sitting could lead to an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea. Your cat usually knows when they’ve had enough, so trust their instincts. 

Though overconsumption of catnip is not considered life threatening, if you notice any concerning symptoms, or if the symptoms listed above persist after your cat has been exposed to catnip, it’s best to consult your nearest AZPetVet location for advice.  

What Catnip Is Used For  

Catnip has been used for various purposes beyond just entertaining cats. It can also be used to:  

  • Encourage Exercise: Using catnip as a reward during playtime can motivate your cat to engage in physical activity, promoting a healthy lifestyle.  
  • Reduce Stress: Some cats find comfort in the scent of catnip, making it a useful tool for reducing anxiety in stressful situations, such as trips to the vet or moving to a new home. 

How to Give Cats Catnip  

Giving catnip to your cat can be a fun and enriching experience for both you and your pet. There are various ways to offer catnip to your cat, including:  

Dried Catnip 

Sprinkle dried catnip on scratching posts, toys, or bedding to encourage play and exploration.  

Catnip Toys 

Many pet stores sell toys infused with catnip, providing a safe and controlled way for your cat to interact with the herb. You can also make or use your own existing toys and sprinkle some dried catnip on them for your cat to enjoy. Check out our blog on enrichment activities and toys for cats for some inspiration! 

Fresh Catnip 

If you have access to fresh catnip, you can offer it to your cat by rubbing the leaves or stems gently between your fingers to release the scent.  

Catnip Treats 

Catnip treats are an easy way to manage the serving amount you are giving to your cat to ensure they are not overconsuming. Be sure to store these in a place your cat cannot get to (if possible) to ensure they do not break into the stash while you are not aware.  

Why Cats Love Catnip  

The exact reason why cats are so drawn to catnip remains a bit of a mystery. It’s believed that the nepetalactone in catnip mimics pheromones that trigger a pleasurable response in cats, leading to their enthusiastic reaction.  


Can You Grow Catnip?  

Cat smelling Catnip Plant Yes, catnip is relatively easy to grow and can be a rewarding addition to your garden. Catnip plants thrive in sunny locations with well-drained soil and can be propagated from seeds or cuttings. Just be prepared for your garden to become a magnet for neighborhood cats! Catnip also grows well in indoor settings and has a pleasant, minty smell for humans accompanied by small purple flowers.   

Catnip is a fascinating herb that holds a special allure for many cats. While its effects may seem odd, they’re generally harmless and can provide enrichment and entertainment for your feline companions. Just remember to use catnip in moderation and monitor your cat’s behavior to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone involved. 


Disclaimer: Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.