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Is Catnip Good for Cats?

black and white tuxedo cat standing on a tile floor next to a potted catnip herb plant

If you share your heart and your home with a cat, you’ve likely seen or heard the buzz about catnip and catnip toys for your feline friend. However, we rarely discuss the details of this common herb. Today we’re going to break down what catnip is, how it works and the most important question – Is catnip good for cats?

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As a pet owner, we want the best for our companions.

In an effort to give them the best life possible, we go out of our way to provide them with quality food and treats, comfortable bedding, and an assortment of fun toys.

However, the pet industry is growing FAST.

There are a large number of products available on your local pet store shelves, which can be overwhelming!

There are always the ‘tried, tested and true’ options – like the traditional mouse toy.

But it’s important to recognize that popular and ‘well-known’ doesn’t necessarily mean safe.

After all, we’ve seen pictures and videos of cats playing with balls of yarn for generations, yet we have now learned that this yarn and string are NOT safe play toys.

If you’ve ever wondered about the effects of catnip on your cat or questioned whether catnip toys are worth the investment, this is for you!

orange tabby cat standing on a wooden surface, in front of a white brick wall, smelling a container of dried catnip which has fallen over and spilled out

What Is Catnip?

The catnip herb is a member of the mint family.

It is a perennial, meaning that it returns year after year. Each autumn/winter the plant will die off only to return once again in the spring.

Originally from Northern Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean, catnip can now be found growing wild throughout North America.

It is often grown at home by cat owners around the globe.

In fact, you can purchase a Catnip Growing Kit on Amazon and try your hand at growing it too!

How Does Catnip Work?   

What is it about the catnip herb that drives our cats wild?

The reaction is triggered by an oil that is found within the stems and leaves called nepetalactone.

Have you ever watched a cat rolling in catnip? The action of rubbing or rolling against the herb is breaking up the leaves and stems, releasing the oil.

The oils act within the cat’s system like an artificial pheromone.

Your cat may react by becoming affectionate, acting like a playful kitten, running around with excess energy, or acting as though they are ‘high’, mellowing out completely.

Responses to catnip will only last approximately 5 to 15 minutes, after which there will be a period of time where your cat won’t experience a reaction.

Related: ‘Keep Your Kitty Happy With These 11 Entertainment Videos for Cats!

Do All Cats Respond to Catnip?

The quick answer is No… 

While most cats will respond to the oils in catnip, approximately 20-30% of cats will show no reaction when given the herb.

The quick answer is No… 

While most cats will respond to the oils in catnip, approximately 20-30% of cats will show no reaction when given the herb.

This includes not only our domestic cats but also their larger relatives including lions and leopards.

Experts advise that the likelihood that your cat will respond to catnip is an inherited trait.

If his/her parents weren’t affected, your kitty likely won’t either.

Young kittens don’t respond to catnip until they are approximately 6 months old. If your kitten appears uninterested, wait and try again at an older age.

It is also important to note that your cat may grow out of his/her interest as they get older.

The Big Question – Is Catnip Good for Cats?

The good news is that catnip is non-addictive and safe to eat.

If your cat eats too much of the herb, which may cause an upset stomach. Even then, there are no major long-term risks.

However, you can wear out the effect of catnip by exposing your cat to the ‘high’ too often.

Most experts recommend that you only provide the herb as a treat approximately once a week.

There are some people in the animal-loving community that question the ethics behind giving catnip to your cat.

They argue that we are ‘drugging’ our cats by giving them access to a mind-altering substance.

Grey and white fuzzy cat rolling in catnip on a tile floor, laying on it's back

While I can understand their concern, I don’t share the concern, personally.

My cats choose if they want to engage with the herb or not. Additionally, I ensure that they are provided with a safe space to enjoy it.

That being said, I don’t judge those who do share these views. I respect your personal opinions.

There is one concern that cat owners should be aware of, specifically those who share their homes with a male cat.

Some male cats will become aggressive when introduced to the herb.

Experts believe that this may be a reaction to the ‘pheromone’ response and its connection with their mating behaviours.

If you notice that your cat is responding in a negative way, discontinue use.  

Catnip Can Also Be Used as an Effective Training Aid

If your cat has a tendency to scratch on your furniture, you can use catnip to draw their attention elsewhere.

Simply spread the herb on your cat’s scratch post and allow it to work its magic!

Your cat will be drawn to the scent of the catnip (assuming that they are among those who find it enticing), redirecting their attention to a safe place to scratch.

Make sure to encourage your cat, praising them when they scratch in the designated spot.

Related: ‘The Benefits of Cat Grass for Your Feline Friend

Safe Options to Treat Your Cat with Catnip

If you’re looking to give your cat a little treat, there are a number of different catnip options available to you.

This includes fresh herbs, dry herbs, cat-infused toys and more.

Although there are catnip sprays on the market, most don’t contain enough of the nepetalactone oil for your cat to enjoy its effects.

The easiest and most obvious way is to provide your cat with the herb itself.

This can be done by growing/purchasing the live herb or purchasing a package of dried catnip.

Over time, the catnip herb will lose potency. For this reason, it’s recommended that you store catnip in a sealed container and even in the freezer to keep it fresh.

Giving your cat the herb directly can be as easy as placing the herb onto a plate or directly on the floor.

Alternatively, you can use a surface like a cardboard scratch post where the herb will work its way into the toy for a little added fun.

Not only do these scratch pads provide entertainment for your cat, but they also help provide kitty with a safe space to scratch.

Scratching is important as it allows your cat to stretch their feet and bodies, works to remove the outer layer of the nails and releases ‘feel-good’ hormones to keep your cat feeling happy and healthy.

Another great way to provide the herb directly is through the use of compressed catnip balls.

Theses have been gaining in popularity as of late.

Catnip and other herbs can be purchased in a ball that fits into an adhesive base, allowing your cat to freely lick the herb whenever they would like.

Of course, there are a large number of fun cat-nip infused toys available.

The cheapest upfront option is a toy with the catnip that already includes catnip. However, these toys will lose their effectiveness over time.

Instead, I recommend a refillable catnip toy.

This way you can replace the catnip, recharging the toy and keeping your cat interested in their new toy for weeks, months or even years!

Regardless of which option you choose, keep in mind that there IS too much of a good thing.

As we mentioned above, too much catnip can lead to an upset stomach as well as a loss in sensitivity to the oils in the herb.

Catnip should be given as an occasional treat and ALWAYS supervise your cat when he/she is ‘high’.

orange tabby cat standing on a wooden surface, in front of a white brick wall, smelling a container of dried catnip which has fallen over and spilled out with the question is catnip good for cats

Have you ever asked yourself ‘is catnip good for cats?’

If so, I hope that you now feel empowered to make an educated decision for yourself!

If you do treat your cat with catnip, what is your favourite way to give it to your cat?

Do you have a favourite catnip toy?

About Author

Britt is a digital/social media marketer and the owner of The Social Alternative. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending her time with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs Daviana and Indiana and their 2 cats Pippen and Jinx. A proud pet mom, she shares all her pet-related tips, tricks and funny pet antics on Shed Happens.

28 Comments

  • Unwanted Life
    September 10, 2020 at 3:31 pm

    That’s good to know that catnip isn’t harmful to them, as I’ve always wondered given that it seems like you’re just drugging your cat. But like with everything, and as you pointed out, moderation in the use of it is important

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 10, 2020 at 5:11 pm

      Moderation is important, as well as monitoring your cat to make sure that they are safe. Especially those that suddenly get overly energetic – I’ve had to save Pippen from some interesting situations before where she got herself trapped simply because she wasn’t thinking during her catnip-induced ‘zoomies’… lol

      Reply
  • Claire
    September 10, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    Great measured advice. I have never given my cat catnip, he is mad as it is. Maybe I will treat him for christmas rather than his usual nibbles!

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 10, 2020 at 4:04 pm

      We enjoy giving ours a little treat here or there. One of mine mellows right out from it while the other gets a burst of energy, running around the house having a great time. But it’s all about moderation, right? Just like any other treat!

      Reply
  • Ellie
    September 10, 2020 at 4:12 pm

    This is such an interesting post! I’ve often wondered about catnip and what effect it actually has and this definitely cleared that up for me 🙂

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 10, 2020 at 5:10 pm

      I’ve seen a lot of people recently talking about making catnip teas and things like that – it really did leave a lot of questions out there in the pet world about what effects catnip actually has on our pets!

      Reply
  • Charity
    September 10, 2020 at 7:06 pm

    This is such a great and informative post! I find that my cat Toby enjoys catnip. It just kind of mellows him out. I had a cat growing up and catnip made him so crazy. He would run around all over the house and play with everything. It’s so funny how they can all react differently to it!

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 11, 2020 at 3:41 pm

      That’s the part that fascinates me the most about it, honestly. Our cats react SO differently, opposite ends of the spectrum lol

      Reply
  • Mrs. P&P
    September 10, 2020 at 10:49 pm

    Our kitties used to love catnip! I’m glad to know they were safe while using it.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 11, 2020 at 3:40 pm

      Ours get so excited when we pull out the package! They know exactly what we have on hand lol

      Reply
  • Michelle
    September 11, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    Very informative. I always wondered about this. Glad to hear it’s not harmful.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 11, 2020 at 3:26 pm

      It’s something that I think a lot of people worry about. Especially considering the fact that it gives them that ‘high’ – You have to step back and wonder what’s triggering it and whether that has any negative effects on the cat. Right? I know I did until I started doing research.

      Reply
  • Nancy
    September 11, 2020 at 10:38 pm

    I always buy my cat catnips even though they have a love-hate relationship with it. It is so interesting to see the variety of pet products around. Not going to lie, I did buy my cats Coach pet collars at one point. It is good to know that it doesn’t affect all cats. I do agree with using it in moderation. I usually like to rub my cat’s toys with catnip. That seems to be the most effective!

    Nancy ✨ exquisitely.me

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 12, 2020 at 5:55 pm

      We have a couple of toys that I will literally throw into the catnip container and shake it up before giving it to them lol They go CRAZY for it (until it loses its potency lol)

      Reply
  • Dorothy "FiveSibesMom"
    September 12, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    Great info about catnip! Good to know it is not bad for them, especially since so many love it. That catnip ball and holder is very cool! I imagine cats would love it!

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 12, 2020 at 5:50 pm

      I have been debating picking up one of those for our cats. They have a spot on the scratch post that they both LOVE hanging out all day. I am thinking of mounting it on the wall beside them, out of the reach of the pups lol

      Reply
  • Ruth Epstein
    September 12, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    Interesting post although I do not have a cat at the moment I love watching cats play with toys that have catnip. Thanks for sharing as I have learned from your post.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 12, 2020 at 5:42 pm

      Thank you! I love watching Pippen. She’s a 12-year-old cat that has always been a little laid back (we believe that she’s part Maine Coon, and that personality shows) but when she gets catnip, watch out! lol

      Reply
  • The Dash Kitten Crew
    September 12, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    There are some people in the animal community who need a clip around the ear. Drugging my cat because I give it catnip? That kind of ‘woke’ attitude will make you few friends and also worry novice cat owners who genuinely don’t know that a little bit of ‘nip does no harm.

    You know your cat, you know if it likes catnip or not and you know how much is too much. .

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 13, 2020 at 12:13 pm

      I was surprised to find full articles discussing the ‘ethical struggle’ of giving catnip and it actually kinda surprised me. I can’t say I ever thought about that – I mean, I put it out, they choose if they want it at that moment or not. If they choose no, I’m not shoving it in their mouths lol

      Reply
  • Sophie
    September 13, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    This was so informative for me, we did have a cat when I was really young (4/5) but I barely remember it and remember nothing about caring for cats (understandably) so although I’ve heard people talk about catnip, I had no idea what it actually was or that it was even controversial at all. From what you’ve said here it sounds like a nice little treat! x

    Sophie

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 14, 2020 at 2:27 pm

      Our cats love it. Most times when I put it out, they come running excitedly. There are times, every now and then, when they aren’t interested and that’s okay too! But watching them get all giddy for it makes me smile every time.

      Reply
  • Jana Rade
    September 13, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    Ah, having it available when they choose it seems to be the best idea. In the wild, animals do seem to seek out herbs and things they instinctively know will help them.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 14, 2020 at 2:25 pm

      Exactly! I’m not forcing our cats to indulge. They enjoy it, so they take part when we make it available more often than not. That being said, there are times when they just aren’t interested, and that’s okay too!

      Reply
  • Emilia
    September 13, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    My Midnight was a “mean drunk.” He was required to enjoy his catnip solo because he’d invariably start something.

    The compressed catnip balls are a 100% fail here even with my heartiest catnip enthusiasts. Even I thought the toy looked cool though.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 14, 2020 at 2:22 pm

      I’ve heard that some cats react more and others have absolutely no interest. It makes you wonder what the difference is for each cat. I’m always intrigued with things that have varying responses like that lol

      Reply
  • Sweet Purrfections
    September 14, 2020 at 9:31 pm

    My previous cat didn’t react to catnip. However, Truffle and Brulee love it. Truffle really gets into it, playing, and sometimes getting a little rough. Brulee loves to lick it!

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 15, 2020 at 3:50 pm

      They sound like our two – Jinx just lays in it, rolling occasionally and licking it. Pippen, however, gets right into it and really playful.

      Reply

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