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By now, we’ve all heard of catnip, the minty herb that drives our furry friends wild. Catnip contains a substance called nepetalactone that gives felines a feeling of euphoria. One sniff is all it takes for your pet to rub, roll, lick, and zoom around the home. It’s like kittenhood all over again.
The effects of catnip on our companion kitties have been likened to marijuana and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) for humans. So, does that mean cats can overdose on catnip? While high doses of catnip aren’t fatal to felines, your pet may experience vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and lack of coordination if they have too much.
Much is still unknown about catnip and its effects on felines, but we know it is a valuable tool for pet parents when used correctly. The effects typically last around 10 minutes and are relatively harmless and non-addictive. Catnip can jumpstart a play session or help a kitty overcome a stressful situation. Pro tip: Limit your cat’s access to the “nip” to once or twice a week to ensure your furry friend doesn’t build up a tolerance to this sweet-smelling herb.
What Is Catnip?
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is an aromatic herb of the Lamiaceae (mint) family. Also called catmint, catwort, and field balm, this herbaceous perennial originated in Europe and Asia and can be found throughout the world today. It is widespread throughout the midwestern United States, often found along roadsides and in thickets.
The rangy plant has green-gray triangular leaves on erect, branched stems. The leaves can be up to three inches long with serrated edges and a fuzzy texture. Field balm flowers from late spring through fall, sporting white to pale purple flowers that our pollinator friends love.
While often considered a weed, catnip has a long history of use in herbal medicine. It is “relaxing bitter,” supporting digestion and metabolism while soothing your body’s stress response and promoting relaxation.
Most notably—and as its common name suggests—catnip is famed for its ability to attract felines. Studies have shown that domestic and some wild cats react to this weedy plant.
What Does Catnip Do To Cats?
Within catmint is a volatile oil called nepetalactone that causes a pleasure release in the brain when our furry friends smell it. Common reactions to this herb include rolling, flipping, rubbing, vocalizing, or even entering a hypnotic-like state. Research suggests that when nepetalactone is inhaled and transmitted to the brain through the olfactory system, it targets the “happy” receptors in the brain. Early research suggested that felines may even experience a psychoactive or even psychedelic effect similar to that of marijuana or LSD, though this has not been proven.
Previous studies have found that only ⅔ of domestic cats respond to catnip, and many experts believe the response is based on genetic predisposition. Other research suggests that all domestic felines react to catnip, albeit differently according to their age, sex, or if they had been spayed/neutered.
A study of 60 domestic cats found that all responded to field balm with active or passive behavior. Results indicated that 20 percent of the felines that smelled catnip displayed the active behaviors often associated with the plant (e.g., rolling over, grooming, chin and cheek rubbing). In comparison, 80 percent showed passive responses, where activity was decreased, such as spending time in a “sphinx-like position.”
When a cat smells field balm, they’ll experience around 10 minutes of ecstasy and zany fun. Cats can also eat catnip, but it typically has the opposite effect. Your feline may appear relaxed and mellow after munching on this minty herb. While it was once believed that the euphoria reaction could be triggered through stimulation of the vomeronasal organ (also known as Jacobson’s organ) while chewing catnip, this theory has been disproved.
Felines typically feel the effects of catswort for five to 15 minutes, though the effects can last up to two hours. After that time, your pet is susceptible to the effects of catnip again and may be given another dose if needed.
Unexpected Reactions To Catnip
Your kitten may seem uninterested in field balm, and that’s completely normal. Most kitties don’t respond to catnip until they’re at least a year old.
Some cats (especially males) may display aggressive behavior when under the influence of catnip. If you live in a multi-cat household, offer each feline this herb away from others if it’s their first time.
Can Cats Overdose On Catnip?
While our feline friends love catnip, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) considers catnip to be toxic to cats. Consuming too much of this herb can cause a poison-like reaction in your pet. While exposure isn’t deadly, too much can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. Your pet may also experience dizziness or have trouble walking.
Our Experience With Catnip Poisoning
My cat Ace, a Siamese, was unable to have catnip. He enjoyed it at first but often ended up becoming disoriented and even threw up a few times. The irritation happened after eating dried catnip. After asking the vet, we determined he was not a cat that could have catnip due to the bad reaction. He was just too sensitive to it and would not stop eating it, which upset his stomach. When it was in the house, he still wanted it and tried to get into it, so we were a catnip-free home for the rest of his life.–Danielle DeGroot, Rescue Cat Owner
What To Do If Your Cat Has Too Much Catnip
If your feline experiences vomiting or diarrhea after ingesting catnip, it’s time to call the vet. Explaining your pet’s exposure to catwort is essential, as this will help rule out any other possible cause. Your vet may run diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the sickness. From there, they may induce vomiting or replenish lost fluids.
What Is The Right Amount Of Catnip To Give To Your Cat?
There’s no hard rule on how much catnip is safe to give your feline. Start with a small pinch of fresh or dried catnip, one catnip treat, or oil spray. It typically doesn’t take much for instantaneous results.
Can Catnip Become Additive To Cats?
Felines cannot become addicted to catnip, though they can become immune to the effects. For example, if you leave catnip-filled toys strewn about your home, your kitty may develop a mild tolerance over time. To ensure that your pet can enjoy the rewards of catnip, keep catnip toys stored away and limit loose herb, sprays, and other delivery methods to once or twice a week.
Use catmint as a reward or to encourage solo play. Environmental enrichment through catnip can be helpful when encouraging movement in an overweight cat or to keep your kitty stimulated while you’re away.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some questions that are often asked by readers regarding catnip overdose. Don’t see yours? Ask us in the comments.
Can Cats Overdose On Catnip Toys?
Overdosing on catnip is unlikely, but your feline can get sick if they eat too much.
How Long Does Catnip Poisoning Last?
An adverse reaction to catnip should last no more than a couple of hours. Contact your veterinarian for medical care if your cat experiences persistent vomiting and/or diarrhea.
What Are Catnip Alternatives?
Consider silver vine an alternative if your cat shows no interest in catnip or experiences an adverse reaction. According to research published in BMC Veterinary Research, 80 percent of domestic cats respond to silver vine. Silver vine contains different chemical attractants, which explains why some cats react to silver vine and not catnip. Exposure to silver vine will make your cat happy and excited. Both silver vine stems and fruit galls are available for purchase, though cats predominately respond to the fruit galls.
Additional Catnip Alternatives
Can cats overdose on catnip? Yes, but not in the usual sense of the word. Felines that ingest too much catnip may experience gastrointestinal upset and dizziness. Consuming too much field balm is not fatal, and using it in lower dosages can have overwhelmingly positive effects on your cat. This herb may offer relief to agitated, scared, or bored felines.
If your pet doesn’t find relief from catnip, there are many other natural options for support, including CBD—a chemical compound derived from the hemp plant. We also share prescription and over-the-counter options for stressed-out cats.