Do Dogs Go Wild for Catnip? The Surprising Truth About Dogs and Catnip

Catnip is a plant from the mint family that contains a chemical called nepetalactone. When cats smell or eat catnip, it triggers a response in their brain that makes them excited, playful, and euphoric. Most cats react by rolling around, rubbing on the catnip, and acting hyperactive. Catnip causes a harmless high in cats that normally lasts around 10 minutes before wearing off.

Some people are curious if dogs also react to catnip in a similar way as cats do. While catnip elicits a strong response in cats, does it have any effect on dogs? This article explores whether dogs have a sense of smell for catnip, if dogs will eat catnip, and the potential risks and alternatives.

Catnip’s Effects on Cats

Catnip contains an essential oil called nepetalactone that causes a euphoric effect in cats when they smell or eat it. When cats detect the scent of nepetalactone, it binds to receptors in their nose and stimulates nerves that trigger the pleasure and reward centers in their brain. This causes cats to become very playful, excited, loving, and even hyperactive. They may roll around, rub their face on catnip toys, meow loudly, chase imaginary prey, and exhibit frenetic energy.

Research shows that nepetalactone is structurally similar to cat pheromones and feline facial pheromones. When cats sense it, it tricks their brain into thinking they’re in the presence of other cats and potential mates, which elicits the happy and hyperactive response. Eating catnip also enables nepetalactone to enter the bloodstream and further stimulate the brain’s pleasure centers. Most cats react by becoming more relaxed and calm after eating catnip.

a cat rolling happily in a pile of catnip.

Do Dogs Have a Response to Catnip?

Compared to cats, dogs typically do not have the same euphoric reaction to catnip. This is because the chemical compound nepetalactone in catnip binds to receptors in a cat’s nose, causing the euphoric effects. However, the receptors in a dog’s nose are not affected in the same way by nepetalactone (source).

While most dogs do not get “high” off catnip like cats do, some dogs may have mild reactions such as excitation or drooling. However, these reactions are less common. According to veterinarian Dr. Jerry Klein, around 20-30% of dogs exposed to catnip will have a mild reaction, while the other 70-80% exhibit no obvious response (source).

Additionally, researchers have found the soothing, sedative effects of nepetalactone may have a mild calming effect on some dogs, similar to chamomile tea for humans. But most evidence indicates dogs do not have the same sensitivity or euphoric reaction to catnip as cats.

Dogs’ Sense of Smell

Dogs have an incredibly strong sense of smell that is much more powerful than cats’ sense of smell. Dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to only about 200 million in cats (Beverly Hills Vets). This allows dogs to detect scents at concentrations of parts per trillion, whereas cats can only smell at concentrations of parts per billion (Midoricide).

Due to their impressive sense of smell, dogs are absolutely able to detect the scent of catnip. Catnip contains an oil called nepetalactone that acts as a very powerful attractant and stimulant for cats when they inhale it. Dogs have enough olfactory receptors to be able to pick up on this scent as well, even though catnip does not appear to have an actual effect on dogs like it does on cats.

Why Dogs May Sniff Catnip Toys

Even though catnip does not have the same euphoric effect on dogs as it does on cats, dogs may still be attracted to the smell of catnip. According to Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, dogs have an excellent sense of smell that is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than humans. They have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses compared to only 6 million in humans. Therefore, dogs can detect the potent aromatic oils in catnip even though they do not experience the same high as cats.

The main active ingredient in catnip that causes a response is called nepetalactone. While dogs lack the feline “high” response to nepetalactone, they can still detect its strong smell. Nepetalactone binds to receptors in a cat’s nose that trigger the characteristic euphoric state, but dogs lack these specific receptors. However, dogs may still sniff catnip out of curiosity or simply because its potency grabs their attention.

Some dogs may even show mild behavioral responses to catnip based on its smell alone. For example, according to Holistapet, the smell of catnip may have a calming effect on some dogs, even though they do not experience the same high as cats. The reasons are not fully understood, but it could be an individual response based on genetics, personality, or learning.

Overall, while catnip does not provide an intoxicating high in dogs like it does for cats, dogs’ incredibly sensitive noses detect the strong aroma. As a result, some dogs may be curious or interested in catnip toys simply due to the stimulating scent.

Will Dogs Eat Catnip?

While cats may go crazy over catnip, dogs typically do not have a similar reaction. This is because cats have an extra scent organ that detects chemicals in catnip, which dogs lack. However, just because dogs do not respond to catnip like cats do, does not mean dogs will not eat catnip.

Dogs will often show interest in catnip toys and may nibble or chew on them. According to experts, catnip itself is not harmful to dogs if consumed in small amounts (Source). The aromatic herb contains vitamins and nutrients that provide some benefits. Catnip functions as a mild sedative and relaxant for dogs. It can help relieve anxiety or stress in some dogs.

a dog cautiously sniffing a catnip toy.

While catnip is not toxic to dogs, there are some potential risks if they ingest too much. Large amounts may cause vomiting or diarrhea. Catnip can also cause excessive urination. Additionally, some dogs may have an allergic reaction to catnip. It is best to start with small amounts and monitor your dog’s reaction.

Overall, most veterinarians consider catnip safe for dogs in moderation. Giving your dog a little catnip should not cause any adverse effects. But be sure to keep an eye on your dog when giving catnip toys to prevent overeating. It is also better to introduce catnip gradually to watch for any individual sensitivities.

Risks of Dogs Eating Catnip

While catnip is generally considered safe for dogs, there are some potential risks and side effects to be aware of. Some key things to keep in mind:

Overconsumption – While a small amount likely won’t cause issues, eating too much catnip may cause gastrointestinal upset like vomiting or diarrhea. It’s best to limit a dog’s catnip intake.

Allergic reaction – As with anything new, some dogs may have an allergic reaction to catnip. Look for symptoms like itchiness, hives, swelling or breathing issues.

Interactions – Catnip can interact with some medications like sedatives or anxiety medications. Check with your vet before giving catnip if your dog is on any regular medications.[1]

Intoxication – While rare, some dogs may become hyper, overly vocal or hyperactive after eating catnip. Limit exposure if this occurs.

Dependency – Dogs likely won’t get addicted to catnip, but some may develop a psychological dependence and keep seeking it out. Monitor your dog’s behavior if providing catnip regularly.

Overall, occasional, limited catnip intake is fine for most dogs. But be cautious with overconsumption and watch for any unusual reactions. When in doubt, check with your veterinarian.

Catnip Alternatives for Dogs

While catnip does not have the same euphoric effects on dogs as it does for cats, some dogs may still be attracted to the smell and taste of catnip. However, catnip can cause gastrointestinal issues in dogs if eaten in large quantities. There are some safe alternatives to provide your dog with similar mental stimulation.

Anise is one herb that can act like “catnip for dogs.” The strong scent of anise seeds or anise extract can get dogs excited and entice them to play. You can find anise-scented dog toys, or add a few drops of anise essential oil to your dog’s regular toys. Start with low concentrations and monitor your dog’s reaction.

Other catnip-free options to engage your dog’s senses include toys infused with mint, vanilla, or lavender. Interactive puzzle toys filled with your dog’s favorite treats can provide mental exercise to curb boredom. Ensure any scented toys use dog-safe extracts. As with any new toy, supervise your dog to avoid ingestion of stuffing or plastic parts.

Providing a variety of toys and frequently rotating the selection keeps your dog engaged without the need for catnip. Take care not to overwhelm your dog with too many new toys at once. Work catnip-free playtime into your dog’s routine for healthy physical and mental stimulation.

a dog playing happily with a catnip-free toy.

Training Tips

If your dog is attracted to catnip, you can train it to avoid cat toys and catnip using positive reinforcement techniques:

Teach the “leave it” command. Hold a treat in your hand and let your dog sniff it. When it goes for the treat, close your hand and say “leave it.” Once it stops trying to get the treat, praise and reward with a different treat. Practice this until your dog reliably leaves treats alone when you give the command.

Practice “leave it” with cat toys and catnip. Allow your dog to sniff a cat toy, then tell it to “leave it.” Reward with praise and a treat when it leaves the toy alone. Slowly increase the temptation by rolling a toy on the floor, but continue to praise for leaving it.

Keep cat toys and catnip out of reach. Pick up any cat toys so they aren’t left lying around to tempt your dog. Store catnip high up or behind closed doors. This removes the opportunity for your dog to get into them.

Reward your dog for avoiding cat toys. When you notice your dog ignoring or walking away from a cat toy on its own, praise and give it a treat. This reinforces the behavior of avoiding cat toys.

Use bitter apple spray. You can spray this harmless but bad-tasting spray on cat toys or catnip. If your dog tries to put the toy in its mouth, it will be deterred by the taste.

With time and consistency, you can train your dog to reliably avoid anything to do with catnip using positive reinforcement.


In summary, while catnip elicits a strong response in cats, causing behaviors like sniffing, licking, rolling, and playfulness, it does not produce the same euphoric effects in dogs. Dogs have a powerful sense of smell and may show interest in the smell of catnip, but they are unlikely to have the instinctive attraction and reaction cats demonstrate.

Dogs do not respond to catnip in the way cats do because they lack the inherited genetic receptor that allows cats to experience the plant’s effects. While some dogs may eat catnip, it does not act as an intoxicant for canines. Eating catnip should always be carefully supervised and limited, as it can cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs.

The key takeaways are that catnip will not get dogs “high” like it does for cats, and it is wise to be cautious about allowing dogs access to the plant. Catnip can be intriguing for dogs, but it does not produce euphoria. Ultimately, catnip is for cats!

a cat ecstatic around catnip next to a dog ignoring it.

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