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Home > Ask A Vet > How to Give Your Cat Catnip: Our Vet Explains Do’s, Don’ts & FAQ

How to Give Your Cat Catnip: Our Vet Explains Do’s, Don’ts & FAQ

tabby cat savoring catnip in the garden

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Dr. Greg Steele Photo

Written by

Dr. Greg Steele

Veterinarian, DVM

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

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Cats love catnip! It really adds something to their play and interactions with their owners by stimulating cats to become more vocal, more excited, and more hyperactive. You will find it sold in most pet shops and inside many cat toys, giving cats a short-lived extra buzz. But you might also wonder what catnip is and how it works, and whether overdose is possible. In this article, we will explore those questions!


What Is Catnip? How Does Catnip Work?

Catnip is a mint herb called Nepeta cataria, found throughout the world. The herb is then collected and dried and used in cat toys and products. You can even grow your own!

The active ingredient is called Nepetalactone. When this is inhaled by cats, their brains interpret it as a strong pheromone which triggers the behavioral euphoria the cat then displays, activating the happy feeling centers of the brain. Some consider it a ‘drug trip’ for your cat, others more of a sexual response – but either way your cat is happy!

Catnip is short-acting and not addictive. Responses to catnip can also be highly variable – some cats don’t respond to it at all, others become a bit sleepy, and some are very hyperactive. It works best in adult cats – kittens under six months and older cats show less of a reaction.

Catnip does not affect humans and is quite safe to use in all cats of any age. Cats can’t overdose on catnip, and it doesn’t matter if they eat a little of it (although it doesn’t work as well when eaten). If your cat eats a very large amount, it could cause an upset tummy (vomiting and diarrhea) for a little while.

catnip plant
Image By: rebeck96, Pixabay

How Should I Use Catnip With My Cat? How Much Catnip Should I Give My Cat?

Catnip comes in many forms – sometimes as a powder, dried herb, or spray.

The Do’s Of Catnip

  • Catnip is safe to use in all cats of any age and does not have an impact on pre-existing medical conditions.
  • It is best to start with very small amounts of catnip when first introducing it to your cat. Catnip can cause such an intense reaction that only small amounts are needed. More catnip will not increase or improve the effect, so it is wasted.
  • Catnip can be used as an effective reward for good behavior, like a treat. It can also be used to encourage your cat to learn desirable behaviors. For example, you could put catnip on a scratching post to entice the cat to use that rather than scratching the sofa!
  • Catnip can be useful to encourage play, exercise, and calorie burning, especially in indoor cats or lazy cats!
  • Catnip can be calming in some cats and could be used to reduce stress when going in cat carriers or to the veterinarian, for example.
  • Make sure your catnip is stored properly and securely away from your cat! You don’t want it to go moldy or stale.

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The Don’ts of Catnip

  • Don’t use too much catnip or use it too often. It should be a treat – only small amounts are needed to get the reaction. If catnip is used too often or in large quantities, the effect will not be as good for your cat.
  • Brains and sensory systems are good at self-regulating themselves to ensure they do not become over-stimulated. They will simply become less responsive to it over time.
  • Don’t use catnip if your cat is not bothered or not responsive to it. Some cats just naturally don’t have a reaction so there is no point in forcing it!
  • Don’t use catnip if your cat is potentially aggressive or becomes aggressive while responding to catnip. This isn’t common but worth keeping in mind.


Final Thoughts

Catnip is a natural herb that acts like cat pheromones to stimulate various pleasure centers of your cat’s brain when inhaled. Most cats respond well to it, showing vocalization, licking, playing, and hyperactive behaviors. Catnip is safe for all cats and cats cannot overdose on it, nor become addicted to it. That said, catnip is best used in moderation as a treat for your cat, in the form of sprinkles, extracts, or sprays. Cats will become desensitized to it if used excessively. Follow the Do’s and Don’ts of catnip to ensure the best experience for your cat!

Featured Image Credit: Badon Hill Studio, Shutterstock

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