What Is Catnip and Is It Bad for Cats?

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If you have a feline at home who needs more stimulation, you may want to try giving them catnip to spice up their playtime. Catnip or catmint can stimulate adult cats just like pheromones. But what is catnip? And is it bad for cats?

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What is catnip?

Dried catnip tends to resemble oregano, but don't let that fool you (or put it in marinara sauce)! According to the Humane Society, catnip is a member of the mint family (there are about 250 varieties of mint). Since it is part of the mint family, catnip can oftentimes go by the name "catmint," or its more formal name — nepeta cataria.

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Catnip contains a distinctive essential oil and active ingredient called nepetalactone. This is the ingredient that is responsible for the stimulating effects of catnip.

What does catnip do to a cat's behavior and mood?

Effects can vary from cat to cat. According to ASPCA, not all cats are even affected by catnip (it's an inherited sensitivity in about one in three cats)! In general, though, the smell of catnip can affect your cat's behavior and even the mood of your cat — kind of like pheromones!

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Common effects of catnip or catmint include:

  • meowing
  • purring
  • mild hallucinatory effects
  • zoomies
  • drooling
  • mood changes
  • mild aggression (swatting or growling)

Note that sniffing catnip has more of a hallucinatory effect on adult cats, while eating tends to make a cat more relaxed. Ultimately though, the effects of catmint will largely depend on the cat.

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Catnip affects receptors in a cat's brain

When cats so much as inhale catnip, it affects their brain receptors and their behavior. The effects usually wear off after about five to ten minutes. It should not be given to them again for at least a few hours. If catnip is given often, a cat may become less sensitive to it. To prevent this, it is recommended to limit the use of catnip — down to once every few weeks.

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Also, sensitivity to catnip usually does not appear in very young cats. Therefore, you may want to wait and try catnip with your adult cats — to see how they respond.

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Is catnip safe for cats?

Yes, generally, catnip is safe and non-toxic for cats. However, some behavioral reactions can vary within cats. If you have more than one cat, you may not want to give them catnip one at a time — to see how each cat is affected. If you are concerned, a chat with your veterinarian. They can help to put your mind at ease and advise you on how to use catmint safely at home.

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Should I give my cat catnip?

Cats really like catnip: so giving catmint to your feline is really up to you. Catnip is safe for adult cats to ingest. The herb stimulates your feline's senses, and it can be a great way to get play and exercise into your cat's day. If you have concerns about giving your cat catnip and the safety of your feline, be sure to consult with your veterinarian.

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How can I give my cat catnip?

There are many ways to give a cat catnip! Catnip comes in many forms, including fresh, dried, and even in a handy dandy spray. There are even catnip toys that you can purchase for your feline. Dried catnip tends to be more potent (and last longer). But, spritzing a catnip spray on a scratching post or using fresh catnip could also be fun and stimulating for your cat.

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In summary

Catnip is a variety of the mint plant, formally known as nepeta cataria. When your cat sniffs or eats a catnip plant, they may experience certain effects on their behavior and mood. Not all cats have this tendency with catnip. Catmint is safe for adult cats, and there are many ways to give this plant to your cat. Just be sure to monitor your cat's behavior and speak with your veterinarian — to ensure that your cat has a healthy and happy playtime!

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