Nepeta cataria, also known as catnip, is a herb widely spread across the globe. It’s believed that domestic cats are naturally attracted to its leaves, and you might wonder if your cat can eat the leaves or flowers of this plant.
The short answer is yes; your cat can eat moderate amounts of catnip leaves without expecting any adverse effects. However, the keyword here is moderate; excessive amounts of catnip are known to cause vomiting and diarrhea.
In the majority of cases, the most notable effect you’ll find is your cat acting kind of frantic after being in contact with a bit of catnip; let’s see more about this peculiar plant and how they interact with cats.
What Is Catnip?
Catnip is a plant that lives more than two years, from the mint family, that is often used for tea infusions due to its calming effects on humans. They grow up to 100cm tall and 50cm wide. Its leaves may look like strawberry leaves, some claim both plants are somehow related, but this is just a myth. These plants are known to grow better under direct sunlight, and you can expect them to produce flowers from spring through fall.
Oil can be extracted from this plant by steaming its leaves; this method allows the steam to mix with the recently evaporated oil, the resulting mix is condensed, the liquid is poured into a jar and allowed to rest for about 24 hours, during this time the water and the oil molecules will separate, leaving the latter on top, now you can easily collect it and store it in a spray bottle or a smaller jar. This liquid is believed to have a repellent effect on mosquitoes, cockroaches, and many other insects.
The Effects Of Catnip On Felines
Studies have shown, one out of 3 cats is not interested in catnip at all. Experts determined most cats are attracted to this plant due to an inherited behavior from their parents. However, some broader studies performed concluded this plant has a similar effect on other feline species besides domestic cats. Testing has been done on cougars, leopards, lions, and lynxes; all of them showed pleasure and enjoyment after being in contact with the plant.
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Based on the behavioral alterations observed in cats after being exposed to catnip, it is believed this plant makes cats high. The reactions you’ll see on your cat after inhaling catnip fumes include the following:
- Rubbing its body against furniture, household members, etc.
- Rolling on the floor
- Jumping playfully
These effects usually don’t last more than half an hour, and are followed by a nap once the effect comes to an end. It can take up to an hour for your cat to be ready to show a similar response once again.
What To Expect If My Cat Eats Catnip?
Most of the aforementioned effects happen when the cat inhales catnip fumes, it is believed that when a cat breathes in catnip’s active ingredient nepetalactone; chemical reactions begin to alter its brain activity, resembling a state of euphoria.
There’s no need to worry if you find out your furry friend ate a few catnip leaves. Cats are really good at controlling their needs and won’t exceed the amount of catnip their metabolism could digest at once. In the event a cat eats too much of it, its body will respond by vomiting. If this mechanism fails, then your pet will end up with an upset stomach and eventually diarrhea.
These symptoms shouldn’t last long, and if you see your cat has been sick for several days, it could mean something more serious is going on in your cat’s body, and it will be wise to contact your local vet.
Is It Safe To Put Catnip In Cat Food?
Moderation is key when including anything new on a cat’s diet. It is suggested to add a few dried catnip leaves to a cat’s food, but you shouldn’t do this on a regular basis. Catnip could be a great stimulant to make your cat more active or even during playtime. However, prolonged exposure will eventually lead to a cease of its effects.
Pro’s And Con’s About Catnip
There are many benefits catnip can offer to cats, your pet’s health is in your best interest. See below the list of pro’s when it comes to catnip:
- Aids in movement, some cats prefer to keep their activity levels at a minimum. A stationary lifestyle risks a cat’s health, leading to serious conditions such as weight gain, diabetes, joint deterioration, and so on.
- Helps to correct undesirable behavior; your cat might find it attractive to scratch and bite the furniture instead of using the toys you brought into the house. As a solution, you could drizzle them some catnip to make the toys more appealing to them.
- Eases the behavior changes during oestrus; when a female cat is in heat, caregivers will notice changes in her behavior, and your pet will be prone to escaping and spending a few days out of the house. Also, the pheromones she spreads will attract male cats to your home. To help yourself and your cat, you could let her play with a few catnip leaves until she starts feeling sleepy and decides to go for a nap instead.
Note this should be used as a temporary measure. You may want to have your cat spayed to avoid the issues related to cats in heat.
- Satisfying bath sessions, some cats are curious about water, and a few might feel thrilled to be bathed, but if you struggle to clean up your cat, a technique that could help you is to pour some catnip leaves or catnip oil into hot water, this will not only ease the process but is considered beneficial a palliative for sore skin.
- Doesn’t create a physiological need; catnip is a non-addictive, non-toxic substance. It’s totally safe if your cat shows interest in the plant from time to time. There’s no risk of overdosing or drug withdrawal symptoms.
- Fresh leaves can cure, if your cat has a scratch, a cut, or a wound, you could apply some leaves to the injury, and it’ll help the healing process.
Every light comes with a shadow, and every advantage comes with disadvantages. This is also the case for catnip, a plant some may consider a recreational drug for cats. Hereunder a list of con’s to be considered when using catnip:
- Age is important; kittens and older cats are not susceptible to its effects, mainly because when inhaled, catnip releases several pheromones that are not well developed until the cat turns six months, and that decreases when racing seniority.
- Some cats are immune to its effects, while it’s unclear the reason why it is known one out of three cats will show no interest nor have any effects on this substance. Some studies have shown domesticated cats inherited this preference from their ancestors. Still, opinions are divided around this topic because it is also true some other felines experience the same effects.
- Multi-cat owners must be careful; if you live in a multi-cat household, it is very important to be mindful about using catnip, especially if you expect it to affect a specific cat. If that’s your case, the best thing you can do is isolate them and test their reactions individually.
- Digestive obstruction could occur; cats are usually self-controlled when it comes to the amount of food they eat. However, it could happen that your furry friend goes overboard and bites more than he can chew. In this case, vomiting could occur if you see any alarming symptoms. Take your cat to the vet for an in-depth diagnostic.
- Be careful with long exposure; it might cause negative effects in your cat, going from no longer being exciting when getting in contact with it to getting nauseous.
Here’s a list of products made out of catnip:
- Dried catnip, advertised to be a magnet to cats.
- Catnip treats, which usually are made out of meat, cereals and infused with catnip flavors
- Catnip spray is a mix of water and oil that could be used to draw attention to specific toys and scratching posts.
- A specific category of cat toys that are ideal for aggressive chewers is catnip-filled toys.
- Edible balls can be attached to different surfaces, such as walls, floors, and furniture, and contain no chemical additives.
Catnip is a widely known herb that exerts effects not only on cats but on many other felines. This plant should be considered a non-toxic agent. However, excessive use of it could lead to health issues. Anyways, its benefits outweigh its drawbacks, and you shouldn’t be worried about using it from time to time.
As a cat owner, it’s important to know how to spend quality time with your pet, and this also includes letting them do certain leisure activities. Even though catnip doesn’t add any nutritional value to your cat, it is their satisfaction that makes this herb broadly used among cat owners.
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Shawn Manaher is a serial entrepreneur but when he isn’t working, he loves dogs. He’s owned different pets over the years, and always gives a part of his heart to each pet.