Catnip is a herb in the mint family. It has a natural mood-enhancing effect on most cats. Some cats are very strongly affected by catnip, while a minority don’t really experience any effect from catnip at all. It’s not uncommon for cats to gather in groups around patches of catnip in gardens or in the wild, rolling in the plants, nibbling the leaves and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Catnip oil products can be used in various ways, such as to make a toy or scratching post more enticing. You can also give your cat the herb to consume, as a treat or to help a nervous cat relax.
How often can you give cats catnip? No more than once a day. It’s not bad for them but the effects can decline if you give it too often. It’s good to use catnip sparingly.
You’ve come to this page because you have questions about catnip and your cat.
- Is catnip safe for cats?
- How early can you begin to administer catnip?
- Can catnip be mixed with food?
We’ll answer these questions and more. Just read on to find out everything you need to know about catnip and your cat.
How often can you give cats catnip?
It’s fine for cats to enjoy a daily dose of catnip but you should not give your cats catnip to consume more than once a day. Similarly, if you’re treating toys, scratching posts, bedding or other equipment with catnip oil or spray, you should not do so more than once a day. Your cat will not overdose on catnip but they can become desensitised to it, making the herb less effective.
The effect of catnip is usually very positive, helping cats to relax and feel happy and contented. In some cases, however, cats can demonstrate less desirable behaviours when under the influence of catnip. If your cat becomes agitated or aggressive after consuming catnip, you may wish to reduce the frequency with which you give it and the amount they receive.
Because they are so deliciously attractive to cats, catnip and catnip products should be kept out of your pets’ reach. They may learn to identify the bag or container where you keep the catnip and try to raid it. Catnip is very easy to grow and useful to have around (and looks very pretty when it flowers) but if you decide to grow your own catnip you will need to keep the plant somewhere your cat can’t get at it. It’s very common for cats to completely destroy catnip plants in their quest for the sensations the herb produces. If you don’t want your catnip plant gnawed down to the stalks, rolled on and dug up until it gives up the ghost, keep it in a room where your cats aren’t allowed. If you have indoor kitties and grow catnip in the garden, you will still need to defend it from the neighbourhood cats with some sort of structure. An unprotected catnip plant won’t last long when the local cats discover it; you will also have to the problem of strange cats in your garden, which can be a nuisance.
If you have a catnip-stuffed toy or pillow, it’s fine for your cat to play or snuggle with them as often as they want. Unless the toy is ripped open (which can happen) your cat won’t be getting a significant dose of catnip from it. The amount used in stuffed toys is quite small — enough to make the item attractive to the cat but not so much that your cat will experience much of an effect.
Different forms of catnip have different effects on cats. The fresh herb is the most desirable, as it has the richest concentrations of nepetalactone (the active ingredient that makes cats feel good). Next is dried catnip, which has slightly less nepetalactone. The weakest concentrations are found in liquid formulations like oils and sprays, which sometimes have too little nepetalactone to produce any effect.
Can you mix catnip with cat food?
It’s fine to add a small pinch of catnip to your cat’s food from time to time. This gives your pet a nice treat and can be very helpful for cats who are under the weather and off their food. It’s also a handy solution for picky eaters: cats who turn their noses up at a bowl of food may happily wolf it down when it’s seasoned with a pinch of catnip. I find this doesn’t work as well with the sprays or oils; in addition, they’re sometimes manufactured with substances that aren’t great for cats to eat. Use fresh or dried catnip instead.
The dried herb is most convenient for adding to food — you can just sprinkle a pinch over the food and stir it in. You can also chop up fresh catnip and mash it into the food. I prefer to mix the catnip into the food quite thoroughly so the cats don’t just eat the top layer and leave the rest. If your cat doesn’t immediately go for the seasoned food, you can try warming it gently on the stove or popping it in the microwave for a few seconds. The heat liberates some of the volatile components in the catnip and makes it more attractive to the cat. I’ve managed to get even the faddiest feeders to enjoy their meals in this way. Once they’ve eaten a particular type of food with catnip in, cats are often more inclined to take the same food in future even if you don’t add the catnip.
Note that this may not work very well if you have a senior kitty who you want to feed up. In older cats, catnip sometimes ceases to have an effect or may even become actively repellent. Tempt your cats with the herb first to see how they respond, then add the catnip to the food if it meets with their approval.
At what age can cats have catnip?
Catnip isn’t dangerous to young cats. There is no minimum age when you can begin offering catnip to your pet. That said, kittens and younger cats are often repelled by the scent at first. Their olfactory systems are highly sensitive at this age and not fully mature so they may find the smell of the herb overpowering; they also lack the response that adult cats have to the herb. If you find your young cat baulking at dried catnip or catnip toys, wait a few weeks before trying again. Catnip sensitivity can kick in between eight and eleven weeks.
When the cat is a little older, catnip may become more appealing. You will be able to tell that your cats are ready when they start showing an interest in catnip-stuffed toys and other items that have come in contact with the herb. Once they’re old enough to enjoy it, you can start offering your young cat a small pinch of catnip flakes or a drop of oil on a toy to sniff. In my experience, younger cats are more strongly affected and require smaller doses to experience an effect. Younger catnip users seem especially prone to getting lively and rambunctious under the influence of the herb, with lots of wide-eye “zoomies” (running around furiously with no particular objective insight).
As mentioned previously, you may also find that elderly cats lose their fondness for catnip as they age. Instead of enjoying the fragrance and the psychoactive effects of the herb, your cat may start avoiding items that contain catnip or its main active compound, nepetalactone. Even cats who were inordinately fond of catnip in their younger days can develop this aversion. This isn’t something you need to worry about, just a natural part of the ageing process in cats.
Does catnip expire?
As with any dried herb, catnip can lose its potency over time. Think of it as the cooking herbs in your kitchen — if you leave them on the shelf for too long, they’ll be bland and flavourless when you finally come to cook with them. It’s the same with catnip. Buy small quantities rather than trying to pick up catnip in bulk — as with kitchen herbs, this is a false economy. You’ll be left with a heap of stale, unappealing catnip that no longer interests your feline companion.
Once you’ve opened the packet your catnip comes in you should transfer it to another container so that it will stay fresh. Your dried catnip will keep very well in a dry, airtight jar with a tight-fitting lid. If it gets damp, catnip can go mouldy and unpleasant, so store it in a cool dry cupboard where it won’t get too much direct sunlight. Sun exposure can break down the active ingredients and make the catnip less potent. To get the most out of catnip that’s lost some of its power, you can try warming it in the microwave for a few seconds. When your cat loses interest in your current batch, though, it’s time to replace it. The exact about of time your catnip will last will depend on how the herb was kept and packed; I generally find it loses its effect after six months or so.
The best option is to have catnip growing in your home so you always have some fresh leaves to offer your cat (always assuming you can prevent you cats from destroying the plant).
Catnip toys will gradually become less attractive to cats as the herbs inside lose their effectiveness. You can refresh these by opening the toy up and replacing the stuffing with new dried catnip. You can also add a dab of catnip oil or spray to the exterior of the toy, although this is usually less effective.
When it comes to catnip oil and sprays, they usually come with an expiry date. The product will probably become less effective as they get older; while they’re unlikely to become harmful, they will stop having an effect and may as well be discarded.
Can cats eat catnip flowers?
Yes, cats can and will eat the flowers from your catnip plants. A cat who is sensitive to catnip will generally enjoy every part of the plant, even going so far as to dig it up to nibble on the roots. Some cats seem to have a particular fondness for the blossoms while others prefer the leaves to nibble on. It’s quite safe to allow your cats to eat catnip flowers if they want to.
Although catnip flowers provide no nutritional value to your cat, they contain the same active compounds as the rest of the plant and can be very enjoyable for felines. In some rare cases, a cat may eat so much fresh catnip that nausea and diarrhoea ensue; however, this is unusual and not restricted to the flowers. Cats typically take what they want and stop before they get sick, regardless of which part of the plant they have consumed.
If you’re giving your cat dried catnip, it’s a good idea to make sure that flowers and stalks are thoroughly crushed into flakes. When dried, the flowers and stalks can be difficult for cats to chew unless they’re broken down completely. You can buy the whole plant dried and flaked; if you’re drying the herb at home, consider crushing the flowers, stems and other large, hard-to-chew sections in a grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Be careful that anything you use to grind catnip is scrupulously clean and has no residue from other foodstuffs. Traces of coffee or garlic, for instance, could make your pet sick. Scrub everything well before you use it or keep a separate set of equipment that’s specifically for your cat’s treats.
Why do cats like catnip?
Cats like catnip because it contains nepetalactone, a psychoactive substance. Cats who are sensitive to this substance (about 70 per cent of the total feline population) experience a wide variety of effects from catnip, including euphoria, bursts of energy, increased affection and all sorts of odd behaviours such as rolling on the floor or staring into the distance with wide, glazed eyes. The leaves and flowers, and to some extent the roots, generally have a euphoric or stimulating effect when sniffed and a sedative effect when consumed. You can use catnip to give your cat a treat or to reduce anxiety in stressed or unhappy cats.
A cat’s use of catnip tends to be self-limiting. They will stop naturally when they have had enough. If your cat eats too much catnip — which is rare — they can be sick or have an upset stomach. You might want to limit the amount of catnip that you offer in future.
Most cats are happier and more friendly on catnip but there are outliers; some kitties can become stroppy and aggressive under the influence of the herb, although they may still enjoy taking it. If you have a multi-cat household and one or other of your cats respond in this way, those cats can still enjoy a little catnip. You will need to separate your cat from the rest of your pets until the catnip wears off.
If your cats show no interest in a catnip product, try one that’s a little stronger. If they don’t respond even to the fresh herb, they may simply not have the gene that causes catnip sensitivity. Sensitivity to nepetalactone is inherited and about 30 per cent of cats lack the gene involved.
How long does catnip last?
The catnip “high” tends not to last very long. After sniffing or eating catnip, your cat may show the effects of catnip for between 10 or 15 minutes. After that, cats usually return to normal (although they may seem calmer and happier afterwards).
Left to their own devices, cats may seek out an extra dose of catnip and may choose to remain in the euphoric state for hours at a time. You see this with outdoor cats who have access to patches of catnip plants: they will spend great stretches of time rolling in the catnip patch, nibbling the leaves and rubbing their faces into the fragrant herb so they can inhale the nepetalactone that the bruised plant gives off. It’s not uncommon for large groups of cats to gather in patches of catnip so they can share the experience, rolling in the plants and allowing their fellows to sniff them for an extra boost of euphoria. Eventually, they will become tired of the sport and move off but these catnip parties can last for hours on end.
Another use of catnip is to make objects like scratching posts and kitty carriers more appealing to cats. The effects of catnip, when rubbed onto a piece of equipment, will tend to fade fairly rapidly. I’m not a fan of the sprays, really; they never seem to work well or last very long. Oils are a little better but I much prefer to use the fresh or dried herb. Rub it thoroughly all over the object and reapply every day or two to really get the benefit. This kind of application will not produce much of an effect on your cat but will make the object more attractive as long as the effects of the nepetalactone are present.