Purrfectly Potent. Your Cat’s First Catnip Experience

What is Catnip?

a cat rolling in catnip with a happy expression

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a perennial herb in the mint family that has a species-specific effect on cats. The Chemical compound nepetalactone, found in the leaves and stems of the catnip plant, activates the organoleptic response in cats which causes them to show several behaviors such as chin rubbing, head shaking, rolling, and rarely aggression. The effects seem to last between 5 and 15 minutes before re-exposure is needed to reactivate the response.

Some studies have shown that nepetalactone is similar in structure to cat pheromones and binds to olfactory (smell) receptors, eliciting the behavioral response. Sniffing catnip leads to ticks, chirps, head shaking and odd head positions in domestic cats. It can also lead to salivation or facial rubbing in some cats. Although the response to catnip is seen in cats of all ages, it is more pronounced in adult cats.

Overall, nepetalactone in catnip induces a temporary euphoric state for domestic cats.

Is Catnip Safe for Cats?

Catnip is generally considered safe for cats when given in moderation. The active chemical compound in catnip, called nepetalactone, is non-addictive and non-toxic. Cats have a unique sensitivity and reaction to this compound that is not harmful to their health [1].

However, some possible side effects of catnip may include diarrhea or vomiting if a large amount is eaten. It can also cause a temporary hyperactive state or agitation. But these effects are not dangerous and will pass once the cat metabolizes the catnip [2].

Overall, catnip is not considered toxic or harmful to cats when given occasionally and in moderation. Avoid giving extremely large amounts of catnip, and discontinue use if any negative side effects are observed. When used responsibly, catnip can be a fun and stimulating treat for cats [3].

What Forms of Catnip Can I Give My Cat?

There are several forms of catnip you can give your cat to enjoy:

Loose Dried Leaves

The most common form of catnip is the loose dried leaves. You can sprinkle these on the floor, mix them into toys, or put them in a paper bag for your cat to enjoy. Be sure to store any unused dried catnip in an airtight container out of sunlight, as the oils that give catnip its appeal to cats can evaporate over time.

Catnip Toys

Many cat toys on the market are filled or stuffed with dried catnip. These infused toys are a fun way to let your cat play with and release the scent from the catnip. Some examples are plush mice or balls filled with catnip. Just be aware that your cat may destroy the toy to get access to the catnip inside!

Catnip Sprays

Catnip spray is made by infusing catnip oils into water. You can spray this onto toys, scratching posts, cat beds, or any other surface you want to make appealing to your cat. Sprays allow you to give your cat access to catnip without the mess of loose leaves.

Catnip Treats

Some pet stores sell treats like crunchy catnip biscuits that have catnip infused into them. These provide stimulation along with a tasty snack. Just be sure not to overfeed treats, as they are calorie dense.

How Much Catnip Should I Give My Cat?

When first introducing catnip to your cat, it’s best to start with a small amount to see how they react. According to WagWalking, you should give about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of dried catnip or 1-3 fresh catnip leaves.

Give your cat the small amount of catnip and observe their reaction. Most cats will sniff, lick, eat, or roll around in the catnip. The effects typically last 5-15 minutes. If your cat seems to enjoy the catnip and wants more, you can give them a bit more based on their reaction. However, HolistaPet recommends limiting catnip to only 1-2 times per day maximum.

Giving too much catnip can overstimulate some cats and make them hyperactive. According to SmalldoorVet, there’s no risk of a cat overdosing on catnip, but they shouldn’t eat very large amounts as it may upset their stomach.

What is the Best Way to Give Catnip?

a person sprinkling dried catnip on the floor for their cat

There are several recommended ways to give catnip to your cat:

  • Sprinkle loose dried catnip leaves in areas your cat frequents like their bed, scratching post, or play areas (https://content.petmate.com/academy/the-dos-and-donts-of-catnip/)
  • Fill cat toys with dried catnip like mice or balls so your cat can play and release the catnip aromas (https://www.wikihow.com/Give-Catnip-to-Your-Cat)
  • Use catnip sprays containing catnip oil on your cat’s toys or scratching posts (https://content.petmate.com/academy/the-dos-and-donts-of-catnip/)
  • Hide treats or food inside paper bundles, socks, or boxes with catnip to encourage play and foraging

The key is to sprinkle small amounts of loose dried catnip or to use catnip-filled toys to allow your cat to release the aroma themselves through playing and interacting. This provides mental stimulation and satisfies their natural instincts to hunt, forage, and play.

What is My Cat’s Reaction to Catnip?

Most cats react to catnip in a similar way. Common reactions include:

  • Sniffing, licking, and chewing on catnip. Cats use their Jacobson’s organ to detect the nepetalactone in catnip, which triggers a response.
  • Rubbing on and rolling around in catnip. Cats will often get the catnip on their fur and then lick it off.
  • Increased playfulness and activity. Under the influence of catnip, cats often play more energetically, chase imaginary prey, and perform acrobatics.
  • A relaxed, content state afterwards. The catnip high wears off after 5-15 minutes, leaving the cat mellow and satisfied.

According to the ASPCA, “When cats experience the effects of catnip, you’ll notice exaggerated stretching, rolling around, pawing at the air, and other behaviors associated with feline bliss” (Source).

Should I Give Catnip to Kittens?

a kitten cautiously approaching some catnip leaves

Generally, it’s best to wait until a kitten is 3-6 months old before introducing catnip. Kittens younger than 3 months are unlikely to have a reaction to catnip as their senses are still developing.

Once a kitten reaches 3-6 months, you can offer a small pinch or sprinkle of dried catnip to test their reaction. Use smaller amounts compared to adult cats, as kittens are still small and their tolerance levels are unknown.

Closely monitor your kitten’s reaction to their first catnip encounter. Most will simply play more energetically, roll around, sniff and chew on the catnip. However, some kittens may become overly excited or anxious. Remove the catnip if your kitten seems distressed.

Try giving catnip in a quiet, comfortable environment without too many distractions at first. This allows you to clearly observe your kitten’s reaction.

With time and repeated exposure, you will get to know your kitten’s tolerance and preferences for enjoying catnip safely.

Are Some Cats Unaffected by Catnip?

It’s estimated that about 20-30% of cats do not react to catnip (1). This is because they lack the receptors that detect catnip’s active compound, called nepetalactone. The inability to respond to catnip is a genetic trait that runs in certain cat breeds and families (2). Siamese cats, for example, are often unaffected by catnip. Each cat’s reaction to catnip is unique and depends on their genetic makeup.

If your cat shows no interest in catnip, don’t worry – they can still lead a happy, enriching life! Try experimenting with different cat toys and treats to find their favorites. Some alternatives to catnip include silver vine powder, valerian root, and even common spices like cinnamon. The most important thing is catering to your individual cat’s personality and preferences.

With patience and creativity, you can still find toys and activities to engage and excite even the catnip-resistant feline!

(1) https://www.petmd.com/news/view/why-do-some-cats-not-react-catnip-37525
(2) https://www.reddit.com/r/CatAdvice/comments/psb6gs/my_kitten_doesnt_react_to_catnip_is_that_normal/

Tips for Giving Catnip

When introducing catnip to your cat for the first time, it’s best to start with small amounts and pay close attention to your cat’s reaction. Here are some tips for giving catnip safely and effectively:

cat toys filled with catnip, including mice and balls

Start with small amounts – Only give your cat a pinch or two of dried catnip to begin with. You can slowly increase the amount as needed, but too much at once may cause overstimulation.

Use catnip at playtime – Catnip can encourage playful behavior, so it’s great to use when playing with toys with your cat. Toss a few pinches of catnip on the floor or rub it into toys.

Store in sealed container – Keep unused catnip in an airtight container out of your cat’s reach. This will help preserve the aromatic essential oils that give catnip its appeal.

Watch for overstimulation – Some cats may become overly excited or aggressive with catnip. Remove access to catnip if your cat shows signs of anxiety or aggression.

Provide access to water – Catnip can cause dry mouth. Always provide fresh water for your cat to drink when giving catnip.

By following these tips, you can safely introduce catnip to your feline friend and provide an enriching experience.

FAQs about Catnip

Catnip can be a fun and relaxing treat for cats, but new cat owners often have questions about giving it. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about catnip.

Is catnip addictive?

No, catnip is not addictive for cats. The active chemical in catnip, called nepetalactone, binds to receptors in a cat’s nose and has a temporarily stimulating effect. However, cats do not develop a physical or psychological dependence on catnip (Zoetis).

How often can I give my cat catnip?

It’s generally recommended to give catnip no more than 2-3 times per day. Giving too much catnip can make your cat lethargic. Limiting catnip will help preserve its stimulating effects (From The Field).

What are signs of a catnip overdose?

Signs of too much catnip include hyperactivity, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. If you observe any of these symptoms after giving catnip, take away the catnip and monitor your cat. Call your vet if symptoms persist (Petmate).

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