Help! Did I Overdose My Cat On Catnip?

What is catnip?

Catnip is an herb that belongs to the mint family (MarthaStewart). The active compound in catnip is called nepetalactone, which can have an euphoric effect on cats when they smell it or ingest it (PetMD). Nepetalactone binds to receptors in a cat’s nose and mimics feline pheromones, inducing a response similar to a female cat in heat (PetMD). This causes most cats to act playful, affectionate, excited or overstimulated after exposure to catnip.

Typical catnip reactions

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) contains a chemical called nepetalactone, which triggers a euphoric response when some cats inhale it or consume it. According to the Human Society, when inhaled, catnip often produces a temporary psychoactive effect on cats, causing them to display unusual behaviors like rolling around, rubbing their faces, and exhibiting hyperactivity or “zoomies.” Cats may become very playful and energetic after exposure to catnip, or they may become aggressive and vocalize more than usual.

According to Purina, the classic signs of catnip sensitivity include smelling, licking, chewing, head shaking, chin and cheek rubbing, rolling around, and head-over flipping and flopping. Cats tend to playfully attack their toys after ingesting catnip. The stimulant effects of catnip on cats are temporary, usually wearing off within 30 minutes as cats build up a temporary immunity.

Signs of catnip overdose

Cats experiencing a catnip overdose may exhibit several concerning symptoms including:

a cat acting hyperactive after eating catnip

  • Extreme hyperactivity beyond their normal reaction to catnip
  • Uncontrollable shaking or tremors in their legs or body
  • Repeated vomiting or gagging
  • Diarrhea
  • Hiding or cowering away after exposure to catnip
  • Not returning to normal behavior even 2 hours after catnip exposure

According to veterinarians, these reactions signify the cat has ingested dangerously high levels of catnip active compounds, likely many times higher than their regular catnip dose [1]. If a cat consumes way too much catnip, they can experience effects similar to poisoning, with gastrointestinal upset, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and lack of coordination [2].

How much is too much?

There is no definitive amount of catnip that is considered an overdose for cats. The amount that can cause adverse reactions depends on the individual cat. Some cats have a higher tolerance than others. In general, more than a few pinches can be too much for some cats.

According to experts, cats have an innate ability to self-regulate their catnip intake. Most cats will simply walk away when they’ve had enough. However, some cats may indulge in too much catnip if given unrestricted access.

As a general guideline, for dried catnip, start with no more than 1⁄4 teaspoon per 4 lbs of body weight once or twice a day. For fresh catnip, pinch off a few leaves and watch your cat’s reaction before giving more. It’s better to start with small amounts and slowly increase.

Giving a cat unlimited access to a bag of catnip or a catnip plant can sometimes lead to overindulgence. It’s best to portion out small amounts at a time. Cats likely don’t overdose on catnip in the wild since they need to hunt for it.

According to WagWalking, the key is moderation and paying attention to your cat’s reaction.

Risk Factors

Certain cats may be more sensitive to catnip and at higher risk for adverse reactions from overconsumption. According to the research, the cats most at risk include:

Young kittens – Kittens under 6 months old have not fully developed and may react strongly to catnip. Their smaller bodies are more prone to toxicity from overdose.

Older cats – Senior cats with conditions like kidney disease have a harder time processing catnip. Too much can worsen medical issues in older cats.

Cats with medical conditions – Cats with gastrointestinal, liver, or kidney problems have a harder time metabolizing and eliminating catnip. Overdose can exacerbate these conditions.

In general, it’s best to start with small amounts of catnip for young, old, or sick cats to gauge their reaction. Monitor them closely and adjust the dosage down if they show signs of overstimulation or distress. Consulting a vet is recommended if there are any concerns over a cat’s sensitivity to catnip.

What to do

If you suspect your cat has had too much catnip, the first step is to remove any remaining catnip so your cat cannot access more. Pick up any catnip toys, bags of loose catnip, or plants that your cat could potentially get into.

a person removing catnip toys and plants from a home

Next, focus on keeping your cat calm and comfortable while the effects of the catnip wear off. Provide a quiet space away from other pets or children where your cat can relax. Make sure your cat has access to fresh water to stay hydrated.

Monitor your cat for several hours to ensure the reaction subsides. Signs like vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, or agitation should gradually improve. If symptoms are severe or persist more than 6-12 hours, contact your veterinarian for guidance. They may recommend bringing your cat in for evaluation and supportive care until the catnip is out of their system.

Try to determine how much catnip your cat actually ingested. This will help assess the risk and whether veterinary oversight is advised. Providing the source, form, and approximate amount can aid your vet in recommending the appropriate response and monitoring.

Preventing Overdoses

There are a few ways to help prevent your cat from overdosing on catnip:

  • Limit access – Only give your cat access to small amounts of catnip at a time. Keep excess catnip out of reach.
  • Avoid catnip toys – Toys filled with catnip can allow your cat to consume too much at once.
  • Know proper dosage – Follow label instructions and start with very small amounts to gauge your cat’s reaction.
  • Monitor reactions – Pay attention to how your cat reacts and discontinue use if you notice signs of an overdose.

It’s best to introduce catnip gradually and stick to occasional, moderate use. Giving too much catnip too often can cause your cat to become insensitive to its effects.

Catnip Alternatives

There are other plants and herbs that can be used as alternatives to catnip if you want to avoid catnip overdoses or your cat doesn’t respond well to catnip:

cat enjoying silver vine plant as an alternative to catnip

Silver vine (Actinidia polygama) is a natural catnip alternative that many cats enjoy even more than catnip. Silver vine contains actinidine, which binds to cat pheromone receptors similar to nepetalactone in catnip. Some cats who don’t respond to catnip will react to silver vine. See this source for more information: https://www.amcny.org/blog/2018/06/20/catnip-and-its-alternatives/

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) can also be used as a catnip substitute, though reactions are less intense. Valerian contains actinidine and some cats become stimulated by its odor. Valerian is sold as a dried herb or extract.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) is another catnip alternative containing nepetalactones similar to catnip. However, honeysuckle is less potent and may not provide as much stimulation.

Other catnip-free herb blends use silver vine, valerian and honeysuckle along with other calming herbs like chamomile. These actinidine-based blends can provide a milder catnip effect without overstimulation.

When to avoid catnip

Catnip is generally safe for cats, but there are some instances when it’s best to avoid giving it:

Kittens under 6 months – Kittens younger than 6 months old typically do not react to catnip. Their brains have not fully developed the receptors that detect catnip’s active chemical compound nepetalactone. Giving catnip to very young kittens is unnecessary.

Pregnant/nursing cats – Not much research has been done on catnip’s effects on pregnant or nursing cats. To err on the side of caution, it’s best to avoid catnip for expecting and breastfeeding mother cats.

Cats on medication – Catnip can interact with certain medications like sedatives or anesthetics. Check with your vet before giving catnip to a cat on medication, as the stimulating effects of catnip may be counterproductive.

While catnip is safe for most cats to enjoy, it’s best to avoid in the situations above. If in doubt, consult your veterinarian.

Key takeaways

a cat resting peacefully after a catnip overdose

Cats can experience catnip overdoses, but they are generally not dangerous. Signs include hyperactivity, vomiting, diarrhea, and acting jittery or aggressive. If you notice these symptoms, remove access to catnip and monitor your cat. Giving too much catnip may upset your cat’s stomach, so offer small amounts and avoid giving it daily.

To use catnip safely, give your cat access for short periods only, such as 10-15 minutes of playtime. Start with a pinch or two of dried catnip or a couple fresh leaves. Watch for reactions and adjust the amount accordingly. Store catnip securely so your cat can’t get into it. Consider alternatives like cat-safe herbs and toys if your cat seems overly obsessed.

While scary to witness, catnip overdoses are temporary and tend to resolve on their own as the catnip wears off. With some care and moderation, catnip can be an enjoyable treat for your cat.

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