What does catnip really do to cats? Here's what you need to know

The use of catnip is somewhat controversial. Some pet owners say it creates an intoxicated cat, and others advocate for the plant as an important tool for the animal’s enrichment. Should you really give it to your cat?

Will catnip make my cat crazy? Here is what you need to know
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Will catnip make my cat crazy? Here is what you need to know

With so many catnip toys available, it's tempting to give them a try and end up purchasing every intoxicating mouse you find for your pet. But what exactly is catnip, and should you be giving it to your fluff-ball? While catnip is generally safe for felines, not all cats do well with it.

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What is catnip?

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Catnip is a herb that is a little similar to mint. The underside of its leaves has glands filled with a chemical substance called nepetalactone. When a cat chews or rubs on the leaves the nepetalactone oil is released, affecting the animal’s behaviour.

The catnip grows naturally in sunny and moist areas or can be planted in the garden specifically for your kitty. It is also available for purchase in all forms and shapes - from catnip-infused toys to bags of dried catnip leaves.

What does catnip do to cats?

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Catnip, when eaten or inhaled, affects your cat’s brain, making the animal feel more ‘happy’. The plant mimics feline sex hormones, so the fluff-balls enjoying this substance will often display behaviours similar to a female cat in heat.

Both male and female cats can experience the effects. Behavioural changes can include signs of affection, relaxation, playfulness, or sometimes even aggression.

Why do cat owners use catnip?

For cats that have a positive experience with catnip, it can help reduce anxiety and even relieve pain.

Some veterinarians have recommended using the plant to help with separation anxiety if your cat will be home alone for an extended period.

The herb is also often used for pet felines’ enrichment. For a cat that tends to be less active, catnip can encourage moments of rambunctious activity.

What are the risks related to catnip?

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Although catnip encourages enrichment, it cannot make up for a healthy feline lifestyle. Cats need good, quality forms of mental and physical activity every day.

Daily Paws writes that although ‘cats cannot overdose on catnip per se’, they can get poorly from too much of it. Many cat owners have found it causes vomiting and diarrhoea.

The wonder-plant can turn some cats 'crazy', overstimulating them to the point where they become aggressive towards an owner or another cat in the household.

Though catnip is safe for kittens, they don’t seem to respond to it. Since they are already pretty active, there's no need to introduce catnip to them.

The vets recommend choosing catnip products carefully and opting for the brands that state they use only leaves and blossoms, not the stems.

Sources used:

- Daily Paws: 'What Does Catnip Do to Cats?'

- PetMD: 'What Is Catnip and What Does It Do to Cats?'

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