When we imagine cats, the first thing that springs to mind is that they are graceful, intelligent hunters that also reside in our homes as silly fluff balls.
If you lived in other parts of the world, you may imagine them as terrifying apex predators that are just as willing to attack you, as leave you alone.
And in other parts still they are pests and nuisances who do nothing but steal meat from someone’s dinner plate.
But still, the idea of them as these amazing predators persists throughout our views of them. Yet, even with all their skills, a cat can be rendered helpless by the introduction of a little herb.
This herb is catnip and if you are a cat owner who has bought catnip before, you know that your feline friend will do anything to get their hands on it.
The plant is just something that they find intoxicating and the more there is, the more they want it. However, if you give it to them, is it something they could eat?
And what are the effects of catnip? Is it bad for them? In this article, we seek to answer these questions and discover whether your cat can eat catnip.
What Is Catnip?
Catnip’s true name is Nepeta Cataria, which is a flowering perennial plant that is a member of the mint family, as well as being herbaceous – meaning it has no woody stems above ground.
Originally, this plant is from southern and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the eastern fringes of China.
But it has become integrated into the ecosystems of North America, New Zealand, and Northern Europe as well.
Like many members of the mint family, including mint and sage, Catnip is a very useful plant. It can be planted for ornamental reasons, is drought resistant.
And even repels deer and a lot of insects from eating it, including Aphids and Mosquitos. As such, oil from the plant can be made into an effective insect repellent.
Traditionally, it was made into popular medicines that were used to treat digestive and nervous conditions, and is still used today as an over the counter cure, though the widespread use has fallen out of favor, thanks to modern medicines.
Of course, there is another use for catnip, as the common name suggests. Cats absolutely love the stuff.
They will paw at it, chew it, roll around in it, and generally rub it all over themselves. This isn’t limited to domestic cats, either.
Servals, lynxes, and cougars all show the same response as our domestic tabby’s. Even the big cats have a strong reaction to it, leopards are shown to have a consistent reaction, whereas lions and tigers can react strongly or not.
This has given catnip the variety of names it has today, like catswort or catmint, keeping with a cat theme instead of the mint theme.
Why Does Catnip Affect Cats?
Honestly, we don’t really know why catnip influences cats, though we do know what is causing the effect. Within the catnip plant there is a chemical called Nepetalactone, this is the chemical that cats find so attractive.
There are theories about the reasoning for cat’s attraction to it, but they are thus far only theories.
The most prominent theory is that the scent is very similar to one that cats already have an association with and in fact produce. Catnip is said to bear a similar smell to a cat in heat.
The smell is not the only reason people think this. Cats don’t tend to respond to the effects of catnip until they are at least 6 months old, which is around the time that cats start to experience sexually maturity.
The other reason is that the behavior of cats, after inhaling catnip, is very similar to those of a cat experiencing heat. Although this theory has some grounding, the evidence for it is only circumstantial.
In any case, the way catnip works, once inhaled, is that it binds to receptors in the nose of the cat before being sent to the brain to stimulate a response.
Which gives the cat pleasure and changes its behavior. As far as we know, it is not a pheromone response, but a response based entirely on smell.
This reaction is also hereditary and only affects about 60% of all cats, but the gene that causes it is a dominant one.
Meaning that if one parent has this reaction to the plant, all the offspring are likely to have this reaction as well.
Can Cats Eat Catnip?
The answer to this question is a resounding yes! The plant is not toxic to cats in either smell or ingestion, and is perfectly safe for them to consume or just be around.
Eating the catnip won’t really have the same effect as smelling it for a cat, but it is safe to do.
Like every food it should not be ingested in great quantities though. If your cat eats too much catnip, it will find it hard to digest and may have an upset stomach.
If it eats far too much catnip, it will likely start vomiting or get diarrhea to purge the excess from its system.
If your cat smells too much catnip, the reaction is slightly different. The cat will start experiencing some of the following symptoms: sleepiness, drooling, purring, excessive energy, or anxiety.
Though this is no cause for alarm and the symptoms will begin to subside within 10 to 15 minutes.
Due to the effects of excessive use, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals lists the plant as toxic, but this should not be taken at face value.
It is only because of the effects of excessive use that can cause unpleasant symptoms – like the vomiting – and it is perfectly safe for your cat to have, as long as you regulate their intake (as with anything in this world).
How To Give Catnip To Cats?
There are many ways to give catnip to cats and considering there is no evidence of long term or serious effects on the animals themselves, you can get creative with the methods of introducing catnip to your cat.
However, catnip will break down, and you don’t want to give your cat a decaying plant with potentially volatile oils being released.
Therefore, if you just give your catnip the dried or fresh plant itself, it is best to do so and once the effect has taken hold, dispose of the plant immediately.
To avoid this, many people use catnip toys. These toys are airtight and sealed with the catnip inside.
This means that when the plant begins to decay, the cat is not exposed to the oils being released from a rotten plant.
Most of the time this is a problem with fresh catnip, so using dried catnip is a safer bet.
As with any good thing – like alcohol – it is important to give your cat the plant in moderation. Leaving catnip toys about is a bad idea, as you can quickly overstimulate your cat.
Therefore, once your cat has had its 10 or 15 minutes in the sun, so to speak, take the toy away and place it in a safe, secure space.
If your cat has a good reaction to catnip, then it is okay to let them enjoy themselves with it. Nonetheless, this should only be done a few times a week.
Giving your cat too much catnip will give you the symptoms we spoke about earlier. It will not seriously injure or kill your cat, but nobody wants a kitty with an upset stomach.
When you seek to store your catnip, put it in an airtight container and in a cupboard that the cats can’t access. Preferably, you would have a lock on this cupboard as well, as we all know how crafty cats can be.
Benefits Of Catnip
The main benefit of catnip is the obvious pleasure that cats have when consuming it, but there are a couple of other benefits. Not a lot of other benefits, but some nonetheless.
The first is that it can act as a good stress relief for cats. Cats are descended from solitary, medium-sized predators who could become prey themselves if they were not careful.
As such, cats are incredibly intelligent hunters, but they are also very wary and cautious creatures.
This means that they can be scared, anxious, and even develop depression over circumstances. This often happens when big changes occur beyond their control that they don’t understand, like moving home.
Giving them catnip can settle them and make them less nervous about their situation.
The other positive is that, as far as we know, it is not addictive. Their body does not develop a physical dependence on it like other substances.
And is therefore not going to cause you or your pet problems down the line.
This means you can give your cat the plant as a trial and then, if you feel uncomfortable with it, or you notice your cat consuming too much, you can stop your cat using it without an issue.
Cats are inherently graceful and beautiful creatures that we love to have in our homes. Giving them a bit of catnip once in a while to give them enjoyment or to relieve them from their nervous conditions is perfectly fine.
It not only will make your cat happy, but it may help you as an owner if you need to make a major lifestyle change that your cat may be uncomfortable with.
If you want to try it, then go ahead and see how you feel about giving it to your feline companion.