As a Toronto veterinarian, a common question from first-time cat parents has to do with catnip, and what they’ve seen it do to their kitten.
Mostly, they’re concerned that ingesting it may cause their cat internal issues. There’s a lot of curiosity about the seeming ‘drug-like’ effect it has as well.
That’s why we put together a little catnip 101 here for you today.
What Is Catnip?
Nepeta cataria is the scientific name for catnip. It’s an herb belonging to the mint family. It originates from Africa, Asia and parts of Europe, but grows easily in most climates.
The essential oil found in the leaves and stems of catnip is the active ingredient – called nepetalactone.
The plant is ornamental, and grows to approximately 2-3 feet.
It’s a great option for gardens because it’s also drought-proof and also attracts butterflies. It’s also an effective pest repellent. If you have a problem with mosquitoes, cockroaches, termites and even house flies, consider a catnip plant.
You might be surprised to learn that it’s almost ten times more effective than DEET, which is everyone’s go-to.
However, if like many Toronto neighbourhoods you have a handful of local cats roaming around, you may want to reconsider. It’s not uncommon for cats to get so excited about catnip they destroy an entire plant.
Which brings us to our next point.
What Does Catnip Do?
Cats sometimes inhale catnip, and sometimes eat it. Each delivery system seems to have a different effect.
Cats who rub their noses in it to inhale the oil into their nostrils will go crazy running around.
That’s because it engages with sensory neurons in their nose which activate the areas in their brain that control behaviour and emotion.
On the other hand, cats who ingest the catnip often become very sedate and ‘stoned’.
Occasionally, though, they get aggressive after some catnip.
As a result, it’s a good idea to let your cats try catnip on their own for the first time. If you have more than one cat, it’s better to find out they’re aggressive on their own.
A catnip high will last only about 5-15 minutes, and after that they won’t be able to get high again for another hour or so.
Do All Cats Love Catnip?
Interestingly, no. Research shows that catnip affects somewhere between 50% and 75% of cats.
It seems to affect different breeds differently. For instance, cats in Australia seem to have an immunity to it. Meanwhile, large cats (think lions and leopards) seem to have a sensitivity to it.
It seems that younger cats and aging cats also are less likely to find it stimulating. But there are variations in breed as well, and your mileage may vary.
Is Catnip Dangerous?
Catnip is not dangerous at all, either to felines or humans.
The only dangers seem to come from secondary concerns. For example, if your cat becomes aggressive while on catnip and gets into a fight with another cat.
Even though it’s used to deter mosquitoes and repels deer, it’s not harmful to them, either.
It’s possible though, in theory, for your cat to overdose on catnip. Generally, cats know when they’ve had enough, so this is quite rare. But if it does happen, your cat may experience vomiting or diarrhea. This might be distressing, but it’s not generally cause for concern.
If your cat is vomiting or has diarrhea, though, it’s a good idea to contact your vet.
Despite this, the general consensus among veterinarians is that catnip is perfectly safe for your cat.
Is Catnip Addictive?
There is no evidence that catnip is addictive for your kitten in the slightest.
The effect of catnip is often compared to hallucinogenic drugs. This is why we sometimes may assume it’s addictive. But there’s nothing for them to be addicted to.
On top of that, hallucinations aren’t really what they’re experiencing. We can’t understand what’s going on in their furry little brains when they take catnip.
But it’s not addictive.
Does Catnip Do Anything For Humans?
It does, but it’s not as fun as what it does for your cat.
If you grow your own catnip, or if you pick up a box of catnip tea from your local health food store, it’s a great drink to sip on before bed.
For us humans, catnip is a bit of a sedative, so it can help you get to sleep.
It’s also effective on an upset stomach, on headaches, and even on toothache.
Contact Bickford Park Animal Hospital
If you have any questions about what you’ve read in this article, we welcome them.
Call us at Bickford Park Animal Hospital with any questions related to your cats, or dogs.
We’d love to meet you and your fur-baby.
Bickford Park Animal Hospital is a veterinary clinic in Toronto, located across from Christie Pits park, committed to the highest level of caring and treatment for cats and dogs.