Is Catnip Really Safe?

As a cat owner, you’ve undoubtedly bought your cat countless toys saying they’re filled with catnip. Maybe you’ve even bought a whole bag of the stuff to sprinkle on your cat’s scratch pad or on the floor for them to roll around in. But what exactly is catnip and how does it work? Does your cat even really like it? And is it really safe for your feline friend? We’re here to answer those questions for you.

What is Catnip?

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is an herb belonging to the mint family and can grow to be up to three feet high. When crushed, it releases a light scent.  The chemical compound in catnip that affects cats is found in the leaves and stem of the plant and is called nepetalactone. This oil is said to mimic the natural happy pheromones in felines.

How does it work?

To release the nepetalactone, cats will bite, kick, chew, rub and roll in the catnip leaves. When eaten the catnip will act as a sedative, but when sniffed it produces the opposite effect and your cat will probably display hyperactive behavior. Regardless of how it’s consumed, the effects only last for about 10 minutes. Your cat will probably get bored and walk away from the plant but may return later for another round.

Does my cat really like it?

Whether or not your cat likes, or even responds to catnip is about 50/50. Some cats have a strong affinity for the plant and love to play in and with it, while others have no reaction to it whatsoever. It’s even been shown that big cats, like lions and tigers, will react to it. How your cat responds is unique to your specific cat, and their sensitivity to catnip is thought to be an inherited trait. Keep in mind, though, that the more frequently exposed to it, the less they may respond to it.

Is catnip safe?

The short answer is yes, catnip is perfectly safe for your cat. Veterinarians unanimously agree that the herb is harmless, non-toxic and non-addictive. Some cats who like to chew on or eat the plant may experience symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea but will return to normal after a little time. If this sounds like your cat, just make sure that they have plenty of water available and that you lay off the catnip for a while.