Can My Cat Eat Catnip? What are the Effects?

cat playing with catnip

You might have heard of catnip as the plant that makes your cat high. While this isn’t entirely false, it is important to learn more about it to conclude with a more definitive answer to the question, “can my cat eat catnip?”. Read further on what catnip is and how it affects your cat.

What is Catnip?

Catnip is a leafy green perennial herb that belongs to the mint family. Specifically, the plant, which is also known as Nepeta cataria, is native to Europe and Asia. It grows across North and South America alongside roads or highways, as well. Catnip produces the chemical nepetalactone that is coated in its leaves, stems, and seedpods. Microscopic bulbs of the chemical rupture and thus release the nepetalactone into the air.

Can my Cat Eat Catnip?

Yes, cats can sniff catnip. They can either inhale a live plant, dried plant material, or an oil extract. Catnip sensitivity is dependent on genes, so not all cats are affected by catnip. There is an estimation that 70% of cats experience reactions to catnip.

Moreover, cats can eat catnip. However, in contrast to sniffing it, ingesting catnip can cause your cat to mellow out.

How Does Catnip Affect my Cat?

The active ingredient, nepetalactone, is an essential oil that affects behaviour in cats. Kittens do not always react. However, they develop behavioral changes when they are older. Catnip can affect domestic cats, feral cats, and even wild cats like lions and tigers. Response to catnip is hereditary.

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The Catnip Response

  1. The cat inhales the chemical nepetalactone by sniffing the plant.
  2. Once the chemical enters the nasal tissue, it stimulates neurons that signal to the brain.
  3. The brain signals the amygdala which regulate emotions & the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that stimulates behavior responses.
  4. The cat displays behavioral reactions for approximately 10 minutes. After that, they lose interest.


The catnip response triggers positive behaviors in your cat such as relaxation, happiness, and affection. In addition, some cats may exhibit hyperactive behaviors like playfulness or aggression. Such positive experience may help calm their anxiety or relieve emotional, mental, and physical pain. Some vets may even recommend using catnip to help your cat deal with separation anxiety if there is any drastic change in routine in the near future.

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Consult your vet for further information about using catnip to help your cat’s mental health.


Cat reactions to catnip are reported to be similar to their response to pheromones. Common reactions to catnip that last up to 10 minutes include:

  • sniffing
  • licking
  • chewing
  • head shaking
  • rolling on the floor
  • flipping
  • rubbing (cheek, chin, body)
  • zoning out
  • stretching
  • jumping
  • relaxation
  • aggression
  • playfulness
  • affection
  • hyperactivity

Can Cats Eat too Much Catnip?

It can take up to two hours for your cat to “reset” and become susceptible to catnip again after their first whiff. The chances of your cat overdosing on catnip are very low because they will refuse it once they know they have had enough. However, if they do not, don’t let them eat too much as they can get sick.

Final Words

Catnip is safe for your cat and can be a good reliever for their anxiety. Make sure you store it in the freezer as it can lose its potency over time. If you are unsure about giving catnip to your cat, you can always consult your vet and ask for further information.

A video consultation with one of Cooper Pet Care’s qualified veterinarians is only a few clicks away if you wish for more guidance. Fast, simple, and secure – get the answers you need.

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