Can Cats Eat Catnip And Why Kitties Love It So Much
Catnip gets its name from the way cats react to it. Lots of cat toys are stuffed with catnip. Many people remember a South Park episode where Cartman’s Kitty throws a wild party and the catnip is treated like cocaine by all the hard partying cats. (“No, Kitty, that’s a bad kitty!”)
Cats love the smell of catnip, but is it OK for them to eat it?
Recently, several states in the US voted to make marijuana and edibles legal, so it’s known that marijuana is (relatively, in small doses) safe to be eaten.
Does the same rule follow for catnip? Is catnip safe for cats? Is catnip bad for cats? Can kittens have catnip?
Why do cats love catnip?
Different strokes for different folks applies to cats as well. (Different pats for different cats?) Some cats love catnip, others have no reaction at all. Catnip, (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the mint family, owing to its strong scent. The chemical compound in the plant’s leaves and stems is called nepetalactone. This is what attracts and affects cats.
In the wild, even big cats like lions and tigers get a little jumpy when they encounter this plant.
Nepetalactone acts as a stimulant when sniffed by a cat, causing the cat to roll around, flip over, and generally become very hyperactive. It’s surmised to imitate feline pheromones and set off the cat’s receptors. Incidentally, in herb lore catnip is believed to be an aphrodisiac and is often used in love charms.
When inhaled, the effects of hyperactivity in cats last for roughly about 10 minutes. When eaten, however, catnip becomes more of a sedative. The effects depend on how much was eaten. It is unknown at this time if it makes them contemplate their paws and gives them a deeper appreciation of Pink Floyd and Led Zep.
Is catnip safe for cats?
While it is one of the plants that are non-toxic for feline consumption, it has no vitamin, taurine or protein benefits. There are no health benefits beyond the cat seems to enjoy it. As with anything your cat is exposed to, all things should be in moderation. Just as you wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) eat an entire pan of pot brownies in one sitting, you should only give your cat a little catnip at a time.
Don’t worry too much about overdosing, though. At worst, a cat who has overdone it on the catnip will only experience a little vomiting and diarrhea. Keep her hydrated until this bum trip passes.
Don’t let Kitty have catnip if she is pregnant as it is a uterine stimulant. Even pregnant humans shouldn’t handle it. Some cats become aggressive while on a catnip high, so be cautious around them.
Are there any long-term side effects of giving catnip?
There are no real long term side effects to exposure to catnip for cats.
Eating too much will cause them to act just as if they had eaten too much of anything else, with body rebelling with a bout of vomiting and diarrhea. A lot of it in a short time may mean the cat will build up a tolerance and become less sensitive to catnip.
It’s best to limit catnip doses to once every two or three weeks. Cats cannot be addicted to catnip, though they really do enjoy it; the way a human enjoys video games or ice cream.
Remember that catnip loses its potency at room temperature for long periods of time. It’s best stored in an air tight container or better yet, the freezer.
Smelling vs. Eating
As stated before, smelling catnip and eating it have two very different effects on a cat. Smelling catnip is a stimulant for cats, getting them very excited. You can use a catnip spray to attract cats to places you want them to go (their bed, carrying cage, kitty condo, etc.) and away from places you’d rather they didn’t go. It has the added benefit of being an insect repellent.
If a cat eats catnip, it acts more like a sedative. If your cat is unusually hyperactive, feeding them a small bit of this plant might help them calm down. Tea made from catnip has had the same relaxing effects on humans as chamomile. Since your cat might not like tea, just try a laced treat.
Can I put catnip in my cat’s food?
Do you want your cat to loll around listlessly more than usual? Since catnip has no nutritional benefits, it would serve no purpose as a food additive. Eating catnip causes a cat to be more sedate, so perhaps it might be a good idea to feed Kitty a catnip laced treat before doing something she finds stressful, such as taking her on a long trip or a vet or groomer visit.
It shouldn’t be done regularly as induced lethargy is hard on a small animal’s nervous system.
How old should a cat be for catnip?
Most kittens won’t have any reaction at all to catnip.
Kittens under the age of eight weeks are fairly indifferent to this plant. It isn’t until their seventh month that cats seem to show a real appreciation to it. This is probably due to the possibility that the nepetalactone has an odor akin to feline pheromones, which a cat does not really react to until she has reached sexual maturity.
To sum it up, catnip can be safely used as a recreational stimulant for your cat if used in moderation. Eating catnip is fairly safe, though it will have a sedative rather than stimulating effect. Always consult a veterinarian before making any drastic changes to your cat’s diet.
- “Catnip: Its uses and effects, past and present” Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne vol. 31,6 (1990): 455-6.
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria) – Everything You Need To Know By Julia Wilson at www.cat-world.com.au
- How Does Catnip Work Its Magic on Cats? at Scientific American
- Nepeta cataria L. Catnip at United States Department of Agriculture