What Is Catnip And Is It Safe?

Catnip is a product that can turn even the calmest of cats into crazy, hyperactive bundles of fluff.

As alarming as this reaction can be, catnip is a completely safe product for your cat to use and is nothing like a drug. But what exactly is catnip, and why do cats go mad for the stuff?

What is catnip?

A member of the mint family, it is a natural herb that is native to Europe, Asia and Africa. It grows well and is hardy so spreads naturally.

Nepetalactone is an oil found inside the stems and leaves of the plant, which acts as a feline attractant. It is thought to be similar to a feline pheromone which most cats are attracted to, which is why most will like it.

What does catnip do to cats?

It can have several different effects, depending on your cat and how it is consumed.

Inhaling the catnip is the most popular way to use it, and creates stimulating behaviour in your cat. This can cause hyperactivity, excitement and confidence.

Catnip can also be ingested, which often causes the opposite effect. Much like a sedative, cats can become sleepy and calmer, which can help relieve stress and anxiety. This can help them to be calmer around other cats, or more relaxed in busy or stressful environments.

The effects will be present for around 15 minutes, and then they won’t react to it for around 2 to 3 hours.

Do all cats like catnip?

It is thought to actually only affect 8 in 10 cats. So with some, catnip causes no reaction.

Kittens and older cats also don’t usually react to it. This could either be because their sense of smell isn’t quite developed or has weakened, or because they are immune to nepetalactone and the feline pheromones connected to it as they aren’t sexually active or aware.

It is worth noting that the reaction to catnip seems to be genetic, so if you have an adult cat who can’t get enough of it, their kittens will also appeal to the stuff.

Even big cats like catnip – the effects have been observed with tigers, lions and panthers.

Is catnip safe?

There is the chance they can have too much of it, in which case there may be vomiting or diarrhoea. But in general, it is safe to consume in suitable doses.

Even if they do have side effects, these will often be completely harmless. They will pass with ease after a short period.

Can I use catnip every day?

The smell of catnip often lingers for a few weeks so you won’t need to keep spraying and scattering it around. But if they are ingesting it, you should limit this to around one teaspoon per day.

Catnip is often used as a training aid, so if you are trying to stop them from scratching the sofa, rubbing or spraying some on the scratching post will attract them.

Can my dog have catnip?

Yes! Although don’t purchase it if you want to give your dog energy – it has the opposite effect on pooches.

This could be good if they get nervous on Bonfire night or on long car journeys, but should only be used under these circumstances and not every day to control behaviour.

What else can catnip be used for?

Humans have reported using catnip for various other reasons, including medicinal purposes and in general gardening.

From hair strengtheners to insect repellents, the fragrance and build of the catnip can have similar uses to mint. It can attract nature to your gardens, such as bees and butterflies. And, it is also used in bathing as it is thought to act as a natural antiseptic and can relieve aches and pains.

Medicinal uses for humans include being able to relieve cold and flu symptoms. It is rich in Vitamin C and can be used to reduce bruises.

People have also said they use it in herbal teas to calm stomachs and nerves, and in cooking for aromatic flavour, although whether you are happy to use it in this way is up to you. We would say to use it from a plant as opposed to in the way it is sold for cats.

Can I grow catnip?

Nepeta cataria is available to buy online and in garden centres. It is hardy and has lavender flowers so makes a lovely addition to gardens.

Your cat should be kept away from any large displays, however, and limited to one at a time. Also, bear in mind whether you get cats visiting your garden regularly.

It is thought to be able to deter rats, aphids and ants if you want to control these pests in your garden.

When NOT to use catnip

Never use catnip with pregnant cats, dogs or humans. It is a uterine stimulant, so can cause issues and even early labour.

The same applies if you have a pelvic inflammatory disease, or if your pet has bladder control issues such as from old age or illness.

Where can I buy catnip?

It can be purchased online, and we have found some of the best catnip products on the market whether you’re after sprays, leaves or edibles.

You can usually also purchase it from any pet store, or as discussed above, like a plant which you can cut and dry yourself.