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Cats and Catnip – The Facts and Fictions


Almost every owner knows about catnip and about how some cats respond to it. At the same time, many cat owners have questions about catnip. Is it safe for cats? Can cats “overdose” on catnip? Is catnip addictive? Why do some cats love catnip and others not care about it? Let’s answer some of those questions today.

Cats react to catnip in different ways. Some cats become very relaxed when they are exposed to catnip. Others become very agitated. Some may even become aggressive when influenced by catnip. Sometimes catnip even causes cats to behave as though they are in estrus (or “in heat”.) There are some cats though that don’t respond at all to catnip. That’s because our reaction to catnip is an inherited trait. Our genes determine whether we like catnip and how we respond to it. Interesting, don’t you think?

What exactly is catnip? Catnip is an herb in the mint family, actually called Nepeta cataria. It contains an oil known as nepetalactone which is the primary active ingredient in the plant.

Is catnip safe? Yes, catnip is generally safe for cats although it is not recommended for cats suffering from hyperthyroidism and on an iodine-restricted diet, according to Hill’s Veterinary Consultation Service. It has also been documented to cause seizures in rats so using it for cats with epilepsy may not be a good idea.

Can a cat overdose on catnip? There is no known toxic dose of catnip. Catnip is a uterine stimulant though so it should not be given to pregnant cats.

Is catnip addictive? We don’t have any evidence that catnip is addictive for us.

Catnip can be purchased from most pet stores and online. Dried catnip can be used in cat toys. It can also be rubbed on scratching posts and other objects. Live catnip can also be grown outdoors in the garden or indoors if your human has a sunny window.

That’s the lowdown on catnip when it comes to cats. I’m told it has some medicinal properties for people too but I don’t involve myself with those types of things.

For more information about catnip and cats, see the AVMA press release “Crazy for Catnip“. Be sure to listen to the podcast linked in the press release also.

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