The short answer is no. Catnip is not harmful to cats. This is good news because if your cat is anything like mine, they’ll LOVE it! Give your cat a taste of catnip and watch them go nuts. They roll in it, rub up against it; they’re obsessed.
To be clear though, when we ask if catnip is harmful to cats, there is a slight caveat. While it really is safe, it is possible for a cat to overdose on catnip. Don’t panic: an overdose sounds ominous but an overdose of catnip in a cat is not fatal and shouldn’t even require a trip to the vet.
What is a Catnip Overdose?
A cat who has “overdosed” on catnip will become sick. They can have vomiting, diarrhea or both. I know this is upsetting to both owner and cat, but the good thing is that once the catnip is out of their system, the sickness should be gone. If not, it’s something else and you should go to a vet.
An overdose on catnip is rare. My cat, Laila absolutely loves it but she has never overdosed or become ill in any way from catnip. It’s as though she can tell when she’s had enough.
How Does Catnip Work?
Catnip contains nepetalactone. That’s the good stuff. I joke that Laila treats catnip like a drug. Always looking for her next fix. My mind pictures her going up to one of the “bad” cats at school for her baggie of the stuff. All done on the down-low of course.
The nepetalactone is in the leaves and stems of the catnip plant. Cats will ingest the fresh catnip to try and release more of the trippy chemical. They will also rub up against it to achieve the same result.
Not all cats have the “catnip gene”. Some react to it and some don’t. Hopefully you are lucky enough to have a cat with the gene. It’s hilarious to watch their catnip trip.
Catnip: Fresh vs. Dried
Although the overdose of catnip is not fatal, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen. Who wants to deal with a sick cat? In my case, I never use fresh catnip. It would be hard to monitor and control. The dried catnip that you can buy in any pet store (or online) works just as well for us.
The fresh stuff is more natural, yes, but since I am already growing fresh cat grass for Laila, I feel like that’s enough. How many pots of cat-related greenery can one have in their home?
The beauty of the dried catnip is that it seems more concentrated. A small amount goes a long way – a bag lasts for months in my house. The dry stuff is super easy to put into a pre-made catnip toy or even make your own homemade catnip toys. You can also just buy a toy that already has the catnip inside (like the snake in the top picture). You can hide the catnip toy when you think your cat has had enough. Hint: store your catnip toys in a Ziploc or other sealed bag. It keeps them fresher so the enticing scent lasts longer. Also, your cat shouldn’t be able to smell the catnip through the bag meaning they won’t be incessantly trying to get at it.
What to Expect of Your Cat on Catnip
I can only relate my personal observations of my cat on catnip. When Laila has had a hit of nip, she instantly becomes crazy. She rubs it, paws at it, tosses it around. All behaviors meant to speed the release of that nepetalactone. Then the drooling starts. It’s pretty funny to watch. Once high, she runs around the house.
It’s best to just stay out of her way.
About 10-15 minutes of hyperactivity ensues. Then, she gets sleepy and relaxes – she must be tired from all the running around.
Check back a few minutes later and she’s happily asleep.
If your cat has the taste for catnip, make them happy and be their supplier. It’s fun for humans and felines and just another way to enrich the lives of your indoor cats.