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Home > Dogs > Catnip for Dogs: Vet-Reviewed Effects, Safety & Alternatives

Catnip for Dogs: Vet-Reviewed Effects, Safety & Alternatives

dog sitting on catnip bushes

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

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

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There are few legal pleasures in life as satisfying as feeding catnip to a kitty. Watching their brains get overwhelmed by the pleasure and witnessing them tear through the house chasing invisible mice makes for cheap fun for both you and your cat, and it never gets old.

But what about your dog? Is there anything like that you can give them? If you did give them catnip, what would happen? Would it hurt them — or worse, turn them into cats?!

If you don’t know if something’s safe for your dog, you should never test it on them, but luckily for you, we have the answers that you seek here. Your dog never has to be in danger to quell your curiosity.

divider-dog paw

What Is Catnip and How Does It Work?

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is an herb that’s actually part of the mint family. It’s native to parts of the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, but it’s also been grown in North America and New Zealand to such an extent that it’s fully naturalized there.

In addition to being fed to cats, it’s often used in herbal teas, and the oil can be used as a natural insect repellent.

There’s a compound inside catnip called nepetalactone, and when cats smell it, it stimulates their tissue of the nose. It was believed to involve something called the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson’s organ. However, research has proven that that is not the case.

When cats smell catnip, they rub their head and faces against it and roll on the ground in a very characteristic response. This effect lasts around 10 minutes and then disappears for a few hours. Catnip is thought to mimic cat pheromones. That’s why a cat that’s all hopped up on catnip will display behaviors like extreme affection, relaxation, and happiness — all signs of a cat in heat.

Image Credit by R. E. Beck, Pixabay

What Does Catnip Do to Dogs? What About Other Animals?

The reaction to catnip seems to be limited to cats and other felids. Interestingly, it doesn’t affect all cats equally either. It’s estimated that around 60% of cats will react to catnip in some fashion.

However, while catnip only affects 60% of cats, it also affects other felids, including lions, jaguars, tigers, ocelots, bobcats, and leopards.

The effects of catnip on dogs are anecdotal, and the reaction is nothing like what’s seen in cats. The effect is more muted and subtle.

In fact, while catnip tends to rev up cats, it has the opposite effect on canines. Of the relatively few individual dogs that react to it, catnip tends to have a calming effect. As for its effects on insects, there is clearer evidence of this. Iridoid compounds in catnip (nepetalactone) function as a repellent of several species of mosquitoes.

catnip leaves
Image Credit: lwccts, Pixabay

Is Catnip Bad for Dogs?

As long as you don’t let them gobble down tons of the stuff, catnip is completely safe for dogs.

If your dog experiences the calming effect that catnip may provide, that would be good for them. Not only will it lower their stress levels, but it also makes doing things like going to the vet easier on everyone involved, which means you’re more likely to do it regularly, and that can have a profound effect on your dog’s overall health and life expectancy.

As far as any danger that might be involved, it’s minimal. The only thing that you have to worry about is the possibility that your dog eats so much that it can cause them some digestive upset. For this reason, you should only offer a small amount, and always after consulting with your veterinarian.

If you want something that can make dogs just as wild as catnip makes cats, we may have just the thing for you.

Related Read: Does Catnip Expire? What You Need to Know!

The Dog-Friendly Alternative to Catnip

Aniseed with scoop
Image Credit: Narsil, Shutterstock

While catnip may not do much for most dogs, there is something that might have more of a dramatic effect on your pooch. It’s called anise, and it is the seed from Pimpinella anisum plant that’s related to dill and fennel. Dogs can be given anise raw, as seeds or powder, or baked into treats. Anecdotally, it causes dogs (but not all dogs) to react as if they’re on some sort of drug, much like catnip. The exact way that this behavior will manifest varies from pooch to pooch; some become highly energetic, while others get relaxed and mellow.

Beyond making dogs feel fantastic, anise has important health benefits in humans. It can alleviate digestive issues and reduce respiratory problems. However, as with any herbal product, if you are planning to use anise, you should speak to your vet before offering it to your dog, as it’s not without its dangers.

You’ll need to keep the anise far out of your dog’s reach, as too much can be harmful. Stick to pre-mixed anise treats (and follow the dosing recommendations religiously), or add seeds or powder sparingly to your dog’s food following your vet’s recommendations.


In Conclusion

If you feel like your dog’s been getting jealous of the fact that your cat gets to go on psychedelic adventures every time you bust out the catnip, you can finally even things up a little bit. While catnip is unlikely to have any effect on your dog, it is not considered toxic, and your dog would be safe if you decide to give it a try.

On the other hand, if you want to give your dog their very own stash, you can buy “dognip,” a.k.a. anise. This licorice-like seed can have effects on dogs similar to those experienced by cats on catnip, allowing you to have a great time with every member of your pack (you’ll have to stay sober, though, of course!).

Featured Image Credit: Liudmila Bohush, Shutterstock

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