Will Catnip Knock Out Your Dog? The Surprising Truth About This Herbal Sedative

What is Catnip and How Does it Affect Cats?

Catnip is an herb in the mint family that contains a chemical called nepetalactone. This chemical triggers a response when smelled by cats.

According to the ASPCA, catnip contains nepetalactone, which is similar to pheromones and can induce a pleasurable response when inhaled by cats [1]. Not all cats are affected by catnip, with about 30-70% showing a sensitivity or reaction to it.

For cats that respond to catnip, sniffing or ingesting the herb can cause excitatory behavior like rolling, rubbing, sniffing, jumping, and pawing at the catnip. It can also cause them to meow loudly. The effects of catnip on cats normally last for 5-15 minutes before wearing off.

While the response to catnip produces a temporary ‘high’, it is non-addictive and harmless for cats to experience [2]. Most cats can enjoy catnip daily with no negative side effects.

Can Dogs Have Catnip Too?

Yes, dogs can have catnip. However, catnip does not have the same excitatory effects on dogs as it does on cats. Catnip contains a chemical called nepetalactone, which is an aromatic oil. When cats smell this oil, it binds to receptors in their nose and stimulates a response that researchers believe mimics the effects of cat pheromones. This causes cats to exhibit playful and excitatory behaviors like rolling, flipping, and chasing imaginary objects. However, the reason catnip does not have the same effect on dogs is because dogs lack the specific nepetalactone receptors that cats have.

a dog sniffing catnip

According to veterinarians, many dogs have no response or may even show signs of disinterest when exposed to catnip. The pheromone-binding receptors that make catnip stimulating for cats are simply not present in dogs. While some dogs may eat catnip or play with catnip toys, this is likely out of curiosity or preference for the smell and taste. The active chemical compounds in catnip do not produce excitatory neurotransmitter and hormone responses in dogs like they do in cats.

How Catnip Affects Dogs

Catnip tends to have a sedative effect on dogs, often making them mellow or sleepy. The exact reason for this is unknown but may be related to dogs’ different olfactory systems.[1]

When dogs sniff or eat catnip, the active ingredient called nepetalactone binds to receptors in their brain and triggers their natural sedative response.[2] This causes them to relax, unwind, and generally act “sleepy.”

Most dogs will show notable behavior changes within 10-15 minutes of consuming catnip. While a small percentage of dogs show little to no response, most tend to become more lethargic and mellow out significantly.[3] They often seek out a comfortable place to lay down and take an extended nap.

So while catnip induces a stimulating “high” in cats, it has the opposite effect in dogs, functioning more as a sedative. The sleepy impact typically peaks within 1-2 hours and wears off after around 3-4 hours as the catnip leaves their system.

Is Catnip Safe for Dogs?

When given in moderation, catnip is generally considered safe for dogs. Catnip contains vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds that can provide health benefits. The key is to find high quality, organic catnip that doesn’t contain pesticides or other contaminants.

Studies have shown that catnip is not toxic or harmful to dogs when used appropriately. The chemical compound in catnip that causes a reaction is called nepetalactone, which is non-addictive and non-toxic. Nepetalactone binds to olfactory receptors in a dog’s nose, which induces a response such as excitement or sedation. The effects wear off once the chemical leaves the dog’s system.

catnip plant

While catnip is safe for most dogs, there are some considerations. Pregnant dogs should avoid catnip, as the effects on developing fetuses are unknown. Catnip should also be avoided in dogs prone to seizures. Additionally, some dogs may have an allergic reaction to catnip. It’s recommended to try a small amount first to check for any adverse effects.

When giving catnip to dogs, organic, high-quality catnip is best. This will limit the dog’s exposure to pesticides, chemicals, and other contaminants that could be harmful (see https://www.rover.com/blog/is-catnip-safe-for-dogs/). The ASPCA recommends buying catnip packaged for dogs or from a pet supply store, not catnip intended for cats, as these products may contain additional compounds unsafe for dogs.

Overall, when given in moderation, organic catnip is safe for most dogs and can provide calming effects. However, it’s best to consult your veterinarian, especially if your dog is pregnant or has a chronic health condition.

Recommended Catnip Dosage for Dogs

When giving catnip to dogs, it’s important to use the proper dosage to avoid any potential side effects. According to The Wildest, the general dosage guidelines based on dog size are:1

  • Small breed dogs: 1/8 tablespoon of dried catnip or a few leaves
  • Medium sized dogs: 1/4 tablespoon of dried catnip
  • Large dogs: 1/2 tablespoon of dried catnip

You can give this amount of dried catnip to dogs 1-2 times per day. Alternatively, dogs can be given catnip extracts or catnip-filled toys in moderation. It’s important to monitor your dog’s reaction to catnip and watch for any side effects like hyperactivity or gastrointestinal upset. Reduce the dosage if any concerning symptoms arise.

Other Benefits of Catnip for Dogs

In addition to its calming effects, catnip has some other potential benefits for dogs. Several studies have shown that catnip may help relieve dogs’ anxiety or stress. The compounds in catnip have a soothing effect on the nervous system, which can reduce anxiety, restlessness, and hyperactivity in dogs. Catnip’s sedative properties can help high-strung dogs feel more relaxed.

dog being given catnip treat

Catnip also has natural pest-repellant properties. The essential oils in catnip leaves and flowers can help repel fleas, mosquitoes, and other insects. Rubbing a catnip extract on your dog’s coat can help keep bugs at bay and relieve any external skin irritation or inflammation caused by bites. Just be aware that some dogs may try to lick or rub off the catnip oil from their fur.

Overall, catnip has demonstrated several ancillary benefits for dogs beyond its sedative effects. Consult your veterinarian to see if your dog could benefit from occasional, supervised catnip consumption.

Potential Side Effects of Catnip for Dogs

When used appropriately, catnip is generally considered safe for most dogs. However, some potential side effects can occur if dogs are given too much catnip. The most common side effects include diarrhea, vomiting, or hyperactivity.

Catnip contains a chemical compound called nepetalactone which can cause gastrointestinal upset in some dogs if they ingest too much. Consuming large amounts may irritate the stomach and intestines, leading to vomiting or loose stools. The ASPCA considers catnip non-toxic for dogs, but recommends discontinuing use if any adverse reactions occur.

Too much catnip can also overstimulate some dogs, making them overly active, jittery or excitable. This is more likely to happen if a dog gets into a stash of catnip and eats a large quantity. Starting with small amounts and supervising your dog with catnip toys or treats is the best way to prevent overdose.

While moderate catnip use is generally safe, it’s best to observe your dog closely at first and discontinue use if diarrhea, vomiting, hyperactivity or other concerning reactions develop. Consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns about giving catnip to your dog.

When to Avoid Giving Catnip to Dogs

While catnip is generally considered safe for most dogs, there are some instances where it’s better to avoid giving your dog catnip.

Catnip should be avoided for very young puppies. Puppies younger than 6 months old have developing immune systems and gastrointestinal tracts, so catnip could cause diarrhea or upset stomachs in some cases (https://www.rover.com/blog/is-catnip-safe-for-dogs/).

Pregnant or nursing dogs should also not be given catnip, as the effects are not known. It’s better to be cautious during pregnancy and nursing (https://www.dailypaws.com/dogs-puppies/dog-safety-tips/catnip-for-dogs).

Dogs with kidney disease or other health conditions should avoid catnip, as should dogs taking medication. Catnip can interact with other drugs and impact medical conditions (https://www.holistapet.com/blogs/dog-care/is-catnip-bad-for-canines).

Check with your veterinarian before giving catnip to any dog with underlying health issues or that is on medication.

Other Natural Calming Options for Dogs

In addition to catnip, there are several other natural options for calming anxious or stressed dogs. Some popular choices include:

CBD Oil – CBD (cannabidiol) is a compound derived from hemp that can have calming effects without causing a “high.” Several studies have shown CBD oil to be effective in reducing anxiety in dogs. It’s available as oil drops that can be given orally or added to food.https://mycommunitypetclinic.com/natural-remedies-for-dog-anxiety/

dog wearing a thunder vest

Chamomile – The chamomile plant has well-known relaxing properties. Chamomile tea or extracts can be used to make a calming bedtime treat for dogs. Chamomile essential oil can also be used in massage blends or diffusers.

Valerian Root – Valerian is an herb that has been used for centuries to promote relaxation and sleep. It can be given to dogs in supplement form or as a tincture.

Lavender – The scent of lavender essential oil has natural calming effects. Diffusing lavender at home or applying diluted oil during massage can help relax dogs.

Ginger – Ginger root supplements may help minimize motion sickness during travel. It can also aid digestion issues that lead to anxiety.

Calming Treats – Several brands offer all-natural calming treats for dogs, containing ingredients like thiamine, L-tryptophan, melatonin, and ginger. These can be given before stressful events.

Thundershirts – These snug-fitting shirts apply gentle pressure that can have a soothing effect during fireworks, thunderstorms, vet visits, etc. The compression helps alleviate anxiety. https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/6-natural-solutions-for-dog-anxiety/

Pheromones – Synthetic dog appeasing pheromones are available as sprays, diffusers, and collars. These can help relieve stress and tension in anxious pups.

Key Takeaways on Catnip for Dog Sedation

Catnip is generally considered safe for canine consumption and can have a sedative effect on dogs when given in small, regulated doses.

Always monitor dogs carefully after giving them catnip to watch for negative side effects such as agitation or hyperactivity. Stop administering catnip if adverse reactions occur.

Consult your veterinarian before using catnip on your dog, especially if your dog is on other medications or has health conditions.

Give catnip sparingly and under supervision. It should never be used alone as a remedy for anxiety or in place of training and behavioral modification techniques.

While catnip may induce sleepiness in some dogs, it does not sedate them in the same way dog-specific sedatives prescribed by vets can. Do not rely on catnip alone to heavily sedate dogs before medical procedures or in times of distress.

Always prioritize your dog’s health and wellbeing when considering natural calming aids like catnip. Discontinue use if adverse effects occur and seek professional veterinary advice when needed.

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