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Home > Cats > Can a Cat Be Allergic to Catnip? Vet Approved Facts & FAQ

Can a Cat Be Allergic to Catnip? Vet Approved Facts & FAQ

gray cat enjoying fresh catnip

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Catnip is commonly given to cats to give them happy vibes when sniffed or chill them out when eaten, but is it actually safe? Can a cat be allergic to catnip?

We checked out what vets and experts have to say about this, and none of them mentioned having dealt with a case of catnip allergy. However, since the plant’s flower produces pollen, allergy is a possibility, although very rare.

One thing that is very clear is that cats can experience adverse effects of catnip like vomiting and diarrhea. This is more likely to happen if a cat has had too much catnip.

The good news is that it’s highly unlikely that your cat will become seriously ill as a result of eating too much catnip—you can expect a dodgy tummy at worst, but this should clear up on its own.

Otherwise, the consensus is that catnip is safe for cats.

divider-catWhat Is Catnip?

Catnip is a member of the mint family1 (of which there are around 250 species) that looks somewhat similar to nettles in nature. It contains an oil called nepetalactone, and this is what cats react to when they smell or consume catnip.

cat with green eyes in catnip
Image By: Georgia Evans, Shutterstock

Why Do Cats React to Catnip?

In cats’ brains, nepetalactone registers as a replica of pheromones. That means it stimulates the cat’s nervous system, causing a euphoric effect if inhaled. However, in some cats, it doesn’t have any effect whatsoever. noted by PetMD, studies show that only around 50%–70% of cats respond to catnip—cats that don’t react are likely genetically immune to its effects.

Cats that do respond to catnip may display the following behaviors depending on if it was sniffed or eaten:
  • Excessive affection
  • Excitement
  • Hyperactivity
  • Happiness
  • Meowing
  • Purring
  • Rolling around
  • Growling
  • Drooling
  • Playfulness
  • Aggression
  • Sleepiness
  • Relaxed behavior
  • Zoning out

Cats will typically display these behaviors post-eating or sniffing for around 10 minutes before the effects wear off. They may not show any interest in catnip after each “session” for up to 2 hours.

Can Catnip Make Cats Sick?

Though catnip allergies are extremely rare in cats, it can certainly cause adverse effects if they overindulge. Though catnip may benefit a cat’s digestion if consumed, too much can cause an upset tummy and symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. They may also be unable to walk properly and become dizzy.

To prevent this from happening, avoid giving too much catnip—fresh catnip in particular as this is stronger than dried catnip. Highly concentrated catnip oils can also cause adverse effects in cats, so it’s best to avoid these.

There’s no official recommended amount of catnip outlined by vets or experts, but it’s best to start with small amounts to gauge your cat’s reaction. You can always add more catnip next time depending on how your cat reacted to that small amount.

cat sniffing dried catnip
Image By: Lightspruch, Shutterstock

What If My Cat Had Too Much Catnip?

Luckily, cats are quite good at stopping when they’ve had enough, so they’re not really likely to overindulge. Furthermore, if your cat has had a little too much catnip, don’t worry. A minor stomach upset that goes away on its own is the most likely outcome.

If, however, your cat seems to be vomiting or having a lot of diarrhea and you’re worried, please contact your vet. The vet may encourage you to rehydrate your cat as best you can to help flush out their system. They’ll also be able to let you know if you need to bring your cat in to be checked over.

How Can Catnip Benefit Cats?

Aside from the short-lived fun your cat can have in those ten minutes spent zooming, rolling around, or chilling out, catnip can be beneficial to your cat in various situations, including:

  • Supporting digestive health
  • Possibly helping cats with separation anxiety
  • Possibly helping nervous cats to travel or visit the vet
  • Drawing your cat’s attention to scratching posts instead of your furniture (you can sprinkle some catnip on the post to lure them in)

Catnip can really enrich your cat's life, especially if you choose a fun, well-built catnip toy. Our favorite option is Hepper's Catnip Stick Toy, which offers sturdy construction, 100% organic catnip fill, and a great range of colors. These toys are handmade in the USA and feature bite-proof double bagging.

Hepper Stick Catnip Cat Kicker Toy
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Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the consensus is that catnip is not harmful to cats but it can cause a stomach upset if they have too much of it. Furthermore, some cats don’t react to catnip at all!

It appears that the best course of action is to offer catnip in small amounts to introduce it to your cat gradually, but if you’re unsure how much catnip to offer your cat, please speak to your vet for a recommendation.

Featured Image Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

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