How Often is Too Often for Kitty Catnip?

What is Catnip and How Does it Affect Cats?

Catnip is an herb from the mint family that contains a chemical called nepetalactone which triggers a euphoric response in about two-thirds of cats when smelled or ingested (1). The nepetalactone in catnip is structurally similar to cat pheromones and stimulates cats’ sensory neurons, inducing a temporary euphoric state (2). When exposed to catnip, most cats will exhibit behaviors like rolling around, pawing at the catnip, rubbing their face on it, and occasionally aggressive “kitty crazies” type energy bursts (3).

While the euphoric effects of catnip only last for 5-15 minutes, the substance triggers something in cats’ brains that makes them want to return to it over and over (2). However, cats can temporarily become “immune” to catnip’s effects if exposed too frequently (3).

Research shows catnip’s euphoric properties may have initially served as a natural insect repellant, since nepetalactone is 10x more effective than DEET at deterring mosquitos (1). However, most domestic cats have no need for this function, so they simply enjoy the temporary high from catnip instead.

Is Catnip Safe for Cats?

catnip is safe for cats in moderation

Catnip is generally considered safe for cats when given in moderation. The active ingredient in catnip is called nepetalactone, which is non-toxic and non-addictive for cats [1]. Nepetalactone binds to receptors in a cat’s nose and stimulates a response that can cause euphoria, hyperactivity, and playfulness. While the effects of catnip may seem intense, they are temporary and harmless.

Most experts agree that occasional, supervised exposure to catnip is not harmful. However, cats who consume catnip excessively may experience side effects like vomiting or diarrhea. It’s important not to give a cat unlimited access to catnip for prolonged periods. Moderation and monitoring are key to ensuring catnip is safe [2].

In summary, catnip is non-addictive and safe for cats when used responsibly in moderation. It’s a natural herb that most cats enjoy. With proper supervision, catnip can be a fun and stimulating treat for your feline friend.

Recommended Frequency of Catnip

recommended catnip frequency

When it comes to how often you should give your cat catnip, most experts recommend limiting it to 1-2 times per week for 10-15 minutes. According to[1], catnip sessions should be limited to no more than two to three times per week to avoid overstimulating your cat or dulling the effects of the catnip. At[2], they recommend starting with a small pinch of fresh or dried catnip, or one catnip toy, and limiting play sessions to 10-15 minutes 1-2 times per week.

The key is moderation. Letting your cat have too much catnip too often can reduce the enticing effects. Restricting catnip to a couple of brief, supervised play sessions per week helps preserve the novelty. This allows your cat to enjoy the positive effects of catnip, like euphoria and playfulness, without overindulging.

For kittens under 6 months old, many vets recommend avoiding catnip altogether until the kitten is a little older and more developed. Once they reach 6 months to 1 year old, you can start introducing catnip in moderation. For adult cats, aim for no more than a couple catnip sessions weekly.


Signs Your Cat Enjoys Catnip

signs a cat enjoys catnip

When cats are exposed to catnip, most exhibit a characteristic set of behaviors in response. According to the Human Society, the most common signs that a cat is enjoying catnip include:

  • Rolling around – Cats will often roll around on their back and rub their head on catnip-filled toys or on the ground where catnip has been sprinkled.
  • Rubbing their face – Cats tend to rub their face and chin vigorously against catnip toys or plants. They may also lick or lightly chew the catnip.
  • Hyperactivity – Some cats become very energetic and excited when exposed to catnip, running around, jumping, and playing more actively.

According to Scientific American, catnip causes cats to feel euphoric in a way similar to how marijuana affects humans. The rolling, rubbing, and hyperactive play are outward signs of this euphoric state. After 10-15 minutes, cats build up a temporary tolerance and the effects wear off until they are exposed again.

Different Forms of Catnip

Catnip comes in many different forms that cats can enjoy. Some of the most common are:

Loose Dried Leaves

The most basic form of catnip is simply the dried leaves of the catnip plant. These can be sprinkled or rubbed on cat toys or scratching posts. The smell of the loose dried leaves is very attractive to cats. You can also put some in a paper bag or sock for your cat to enjoy. Just a small pinch is usually enough to get your cat’s attention.1

Catnip Spray

Catnip spray allows you to easily apply catnip to surfaces without needing loose leaves. Many cats love having their favorite toys or scratchers sprayed with catnip spray. It can reinvigorate old toys and encourage playtime. Be sure to store catnip spray out of reach of curious cats.2

Catnip Toys/Treats

Many cat toys and treats come infused with catnip to make them even more enticing to cats. Catnip-filled toys often contain loose catnip material inside, while catnip treats incorporate catnip into chewable goodies. Both provide a fun way for your cat to enjoy the smell and taste of catnip.

Storing Catnip Properly

properly storing catnip

Proper storage is crucial for maintaining the potency and freshness of catnip ( [1]). Catnip should be kept in an airtight container like a plastic bag or glass jar to prevent moisture and air from getting in ([2], [3]). Exposure to light, heat, and oxygen can cause the aromatic oils in catnip to evaporate.

The container with the catnip should be stored in a cool, dry, and dark place like a pantry or cupboard. Refrigeration can help prolong freshness as well, as long as the catnip is in an airtight container first. Avoid storing catnip in places that get hot like near appliances or in direct sunlight. With proper storage, the potency and aroma of dried catnip can last up to 2 years or longer.

Catnip Alternatives

While catnip is beloved by many cats, some felines do not respond to it. Luckily, there are a few alternatives that can provide a similar experience.

Silver vine is often considered the best catnip alternative. The plant contains compounds like actinidine that mimic nepetalactone and elicit a euphoric reaction in cats (1). Silver vine can be given dried, as a spray, or infused into toys. It tends to attract cats that do not respond to catnip.

Valerian is another herb that can induce a catnip-like reaction in some cats. The active compound is called actinidine, which binds to feline olfactory receptors (2). Valerian can be given dried, as extracts, or infused into toys. However, it has a very strong odor that some find unpleasant.

Tartarian honeysuckle contains chemicals like pinosylvin and pinosylvin methyl ether that can trigger playful behavior in cats. The branches and wood of the plant can be cut and given to cats to sniff, lick, and rub against (3). However, honeysuckle is highly invasive and should be ethically sourced if giving it to cats.

Ultimately, silver vine, valerian, and tartar honeysuckle can be great alternatives for cats that do not respond well to catnip. Testing different options is the best way to determine which herbs your cat prefers.




Cats That Don’t Respond to Catnip

Not all cats are affected by catnip. According to scientific studies, around 30-50% of cats do not respond to catnip (PetMD). This is due to genetics – there is a recessive gene that determines whether a cat responds to nepetalactone, the compound in catnip that causes the euphoric reaction. Cats that lack this gene are immune to the effects of catnip.

Kittens also do not respond to catnip until around 6 months of age when they are more fully developed. Prior to 6 months, their reaction to catnip will be minimal or non-existent. So if you have a young kitten who shows no interest in catnip, wait a few more months before re-trying it.

If your adult cat does not respond to catnip it simply means they lack the catnip “reaction” gene. While catnip can be entertaining for you and your cat, it is not necessary for your cat’s happiness and health. There are some alternative toys and herbs you can try instead to engage your cat.

Health Benefits of Catnip

One of the key health benefits of catnip is its natural stress relief and calming effects. The nepetalactone compound found in catnip acts as a mild sedative that can help relax the body and mind. Catnip has been traditionally used as a tea or tincture to reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia in people.

Research shows the soothing properties of catnip can lower stress hormone levels and promote restful sleep. Catnip may also provide relief from tension headaches, RDW syndrome, and nervousness. The sedative nature of catnip makes it useful for alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression when used for short periods.

However, catnip should not be used as a long-term remedy as it can cause side effects like lethargy and digestive upset. But occasional use of catnip tea or supplements may offer anxiolytic benefits for managing stress and promoting relaxation.

Potential Risks of Too Much Catnip

While catnip is generally considered safe for cats to ingest, too much catnip can lead to some potential risks and side effects. The main risks of excessive catnip exposure include:

Aggressive behavior – Some cats can become overly excited or aggressive after being exposed to too much catnip. This is usually temporary, but owners should monitor their cat’s behavior closely after giving them catnip.

Vomiting or diarrhea – Ingesting too much catnip can upset some cats’ digestive systems and lead to vomiting or diarrhea. This is more likely to occur if a cat eats dried catnip or rubs and licks a concentrated catnip extract. Moderation is key.

According to WebMD (, catnip oil applied to the skin in large amounts can also cause headaches, vomiting, and a general feeling of illness in humans. Pet owners should be careful to avoid excessive skin contact when handling concentrated catnip products.

Overall, catnip is not considered toxic to cats in normal amounts, but moderation is still recommended. Giving your cat occasional access to catnip for playtime is fine, but large quantities or very concentrated forms could lead to an upset stomach, diarrhea, or short-term aggressive behavior.

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