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How much catnip can a cat have at once?

Here’s how catnip works as a recreational drug for cats

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This article was medically reviewed by Sorin McKnight, DVM, a veterinarian at Wellborn Road Veterinary Medical Center in College Station, Texas.

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Cat laying on the ground next to a pile of catnip.

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  • Catnip is an herb that has the ability to excite cats or calm them down.
  • When cats smell catnip, they may jump around excitedly and rub their bodies on the herb.
  • When cats eat catnip, they may drool and relax while feeling loopy and sleepy.

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is an herb related to mint that grows in many different regions across the world. People originally drank catnip as a relaxing tea, but in modern times it’s mainly used as a recreational drug for cats.

Here’s how catnip can affect your cat and how much you should give them.

What is catnip?

Catnip is popular among cat owners as a fun treat that can excite or calm cats. It can come in several different forms:

  • Loose catnip herb that cats can eat directly
  • Toys with catnip inside them, that cats can smell
  • Spray that you can apply to cat toys
  • Scratching posts that contain catnip inside
  • Treats that contain a small amount of catnip

Not all cats have a reaction to catnip — about 70% of cats carry a gene that’s linked to the catnip response, says Mikel Delgado, PhD, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant at Feline Minds.

Catnip also doesn’t work on kittens — «a cat has to hit puberty before they start to show a response, which is around 5 to 6 months of age,» says Sarah Wooten, DVM, a veterinarian in private practice.

What does catnip do to cats?

Catnip has different effects depending on the individual cat and the way the cat takes the drug. «It either ramps cats up, or it mellows them out,» Wooten says.

Here are the usual ways that catnip affects cats:

When cats smell catnip, «it tends to bind to receptors in the brain that trigger ‘happy excitement’,» says Wooten. They may show signs like:

  • Rubbing their heads and body on the herb/toy
  • Meowing or making other noises
  • Jumping around
  • Playing aggressively

When cats eat catnip, «it tends to do the opposite and causes cats to be chill,» Wooten says. These symptoms can include:

«The behaviors only last about 10 minutes then gradually wear off. It may take up to an hour before they will respond to catnip again,» says Kimberly Simmons, DVM, a veterinarian and CEO of Simmons Consulting Group

How does it work?

«The oil in catnip, nepetalactone, stimulates receptors in the nasal tissues, causing a response in the brain,» Simmons says.

This response does one of two things:

1. It stimulates several areas in the brain, including the hypothalamus and amygdala, which are involved in regulating a cat’s emotions. «As a result, they get ‘high’,» Wooten says.

2. «Nepetalactone may also mimic pheromones, which are chemicals that cats can detect in their snoots and make cats feel happy and safe,» says Wooten.

Catnip can give your cat feelings of pleasure and happiness, Simmons says, and «it can also help calm your cat to relieve anxiety.» Overall, the response to catnip depends on the cat.

How to give your cat catnip

If you use the loose herb, Wooten recommends starting with one teaspoon of dried or fresh catnip. You can also use catnip treats or catnip spray that provide their own dosage information on the label.

«It is suggested to use a little at a time so that you don’t overstimulate the cat,» Simmons says.

Catnip is generally safe and non-toxic, Simmons says, but it is possible to give your cat too much catnip. This can cause various symptoms, depending on how your cat takes the catnip.

  • Eating too much catnip can cause digestive upset like diarrhea.
  • Smelling too much catnip can cause dizziness or trouble walking.

It’s okay to give your cat catnip every day, but «cats will stop responding after a time to catnip, so it’s a good idea to put catnip toys away for at least a few hours to encourage your cat to indulge again,» Delgado says.

Insider’s takeaway

Catnip is an herb that you can use to either excite or calm your cat. You can get loose catnip, or buy catnip toys or spray. «Catnip can be enjoyable for a lot of cats, the best way to find out if your cat likes it is to give them some and carefully gauge their response,» says Delgado.

Catnip is generally safe, but «just remember that because it does stimulate your cat, you want to give a little at a time to reduce the possibility of health issues,» says Simmons.

Madeline Kennedy

Madeline Kennedy is a health writer for Insider covering a wide range of topics including reproductive and sexual health, mental health, nutrition, and infectious disease. Before joining Insider, Madeline worked as a health news writer for Reuters, and a domestic violence therapist. She has a master’s degree in social work from UPenn and is interested in the intersection of health and social justice.

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

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.

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