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Why do cats like catnip?

In the feline world, it’s not a party until someone brings the catnip. While it shouldn’t be used excessively, the herb has a reputation for enticing kitties into a happy stupor that often hilariously
mimics human intoxication. Fortunately for pet parents, catnip has many uses beyond setting the stage for the next viral cat video. When used strategically, it’s a helpful training treat and mood enhancer that can bring you and your furbaby even closer together.

What is catnip?

The catnip plant is a member of the mint family, along with other herbs like rosemary and basil. With green leaves and small clusters of purple flower blossoms, this shrub-like plant appears unremarkable. So, what makes catnip so special? Its leaves produce a compound known as nepetalactone, which acts on cats’ neurotransmitters to induce psychotropic effects. 

Although catnip’s effects on kitties call to mind the behavior of humans who’ve had a few drinks, scientists aren’t entirely sure how nepetalactone interacts with cats’ brains. Interestingly, cats who get a dose of naloxone, an opioid blocker commonly used to save humans from an overdose of narcotics, appear unaffected when exposed to catnip.

How does catnip affect cats?

Much like their human counterparts, our feline friends react to the intoxicating effects of catnip in their own way. Many cats have a euphoric response, characterized
by cheek rubbing, rolling, nuzzling, and thousand-yard stares.
Females may appear to be in heat, and some kitties may become noticeably agitated. A minority of felines are genetically immune to the effects of catnip and will respond indifferently. 

Take note of your cat’s reaction and discontinue use if the experience doesn’t seem to be a positive one.

Can I give my cat catnip every day?

Catnip works best when used sparingly, as kitties can become immune to its effects if overexposed. It’s recommended that pet parents don’t use catnip more than once a day. It is important to store catnip in a safe place, because its scent is so attractive to your furbaby it may compel them to chew through packaging.

What happens if my cat ingests too much catnip?

Even if they have access to a large quantity, many cats can tell when they’ve had enough catnip and stop indulging on their own. While it is not possible to overdose on catnip, kitties who overindulge may face some unpleasant (although temporary) side effects:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Sedation
  • Future loss of sensitivity to catnip

How should I use catnip?

Available in fresh and dried forms, oils, and sprays, catnip can make a fantastic treat or training tool for your kitty. Spray it on scratching posts to deter clawing in unwanted places, or on toys to encourage rambunctious cats to direct their energy appropriately. Its euphoric effects are also great for play sessions and bonding between you and your cat. Adding a bit of catnip to your furbaby’s food can even encourage anxious or under-the-weather cats to eat. 

If you are new to catnip, keep an eye on your kitty while you learn how he or she reacts to its effects. Have questions? Your local veterinarian is always available to help you determine the best way to incorporate catnip into your cat’s routine.