Catnip: Is It Safe For Your Cat?


catnip information

Cats and catnip go together like humans and caffeine. Cats usually love catnip. They’ll start acting strange. Running around the house. Playing with toys, sometimes trying to tear them apart. Some cats even act drunk after having catnip. It’s a normal response to the herb, and your cat will probably want more tomorrow.

The naturally occurring chemicals within catnip also happen to be a strong bug repellent, particularly for mosquitos, cockroaches, flys and termites.  It’s found to be 10 times more effective than DEET but not as effective when applied to the skin.

You can grow catnip yourself for your cats or buy it at your local pet store. You can also get some cat toys with catnip in them.

So is it true that we can let our cats enjoying catnip, and it will not harm them in any way? What is catnip, and how does it affect cats?

The truth is not all cats respond the same way to catnip. For some cats there is no response at all. For others it is like taking a mood altering drug for humans. It can make a cat act absolutely crazy. Some people swear it is great for your cat while others worry that it is harmful. So what is the truth about catnip and the health of cats?

Is It Safe?

Catnip goes by several names – field balm, catwort or catmint. The herb was originally found only in Asia and Europe.

Is catnip safe?
© Can Stock Photo Inc. basnik

The version from there is a lemony, minty, potent form of catnip. Catnip is in the mint family of herbs. It also appears that catnip –loved by cats of all sizes from the teacup Persian to a roaring lion – is safe for almost all cats. It is also not addictive. You can even store any large unused amounts in the freezer.

It’s in the Genes

Who loves catnip and who couldn’t care less about it is now known to be determined by the genetics. About 50% of all cats are sensitive to catnip, but that sensitivity does not show up until the age span of three to six months old. It is more the oils in the plant than the plant itself that has this effect on cats. Cats will roll in catnip, lick it and even chew it. All of this will make your cat very happy and often very malleable for about ten to fifteen minutes, when the effects typically wear off.

Effects of Catnip

Those effects can range from intense playfulness to chilling out – from jumping around to mellow and calm. However, once the effects wear off your cat will have to wait at least two hours before catnip will affect your cat again. Some cats will respond to smelling catnip with very aggressive and physical behavior. They will roll and run, flip and play until it wears off. When your cat eats the catnip instead of smelling it, the reaction is usually a much different response – they will become very mellow and chilled out, probably just lying around.  If the cat ingest the catnip it has a sedative effect but if the catnip is sniffed it tends to have more of a stimulant effect.

“Catnip has a chemical compound that creates an excessive reaction in about half of cats. They often roll and howl. People say it stimulates pleasure centers for affected cats. Kittens are less likely to react even if they are genetically susceptible until they are several months old,” says Kathryn Primm, a veterinarian for the Applebrook Animal Hospital.

Most scientists believe that catnip produces substances that are much like the pheromones that tell the cat to be happy. It stimulates the brain receptors that respond to the pheromones so catnip is getting almost the same neurological responses from the cat.

Some may think that it is wrong to give your cat a behavior altering substance but catnip is safe, non-addictive and produces only short lived behavioral responses in the 50% of cats that are genetically predisposed to respond to it.  But for many others, it is fun to see their cat get a little crazy every once in a while.

Featured Image: Thinkstock


Nicky LaMarco has been a freelance writer since 2001. Nicky is an experienced ghostwriter and copywriter. She also writes for a variety of magazines. Nicky lives in Maine with her husband, two daughters, and two cats. Learn more about her at