Can cats get too much of a good thing? I was asked the other day, “Can cats overdose on catnip?”
Great question. First, let’s talk about what catnip actually is, and what effects it has on our feline friends.
Native to Asia, Europe and Africa, the catnip plant, which is an herb, eventually made its way to Canada and America. An ingredient in the plant, nepetalactone, is what causes cats to have such extensive reactions to it. This essential oil is found in the leaves and stems of the plant. Cats pick up the scent very strongly — one part to a billion parts air.
Catnip Reaction in Cats
Once a cat inhales the aroma of catnip, his behavioral patterns often go whacko. The type of catnip most often used is Nepeta cataria, which cats seem to like best.
When your cat is around catnip, you may see a variety of reactions from him. He may rub against it, run around like a crazed kitty or lick it. Simply sniffing it can even bring about unusual behavior. Aggressiveness, sometimes seen after eating dried catnip, may also be noticed after sniffing.
When a cat eats catnip, he is not necessarily enjoying the taste. By biting into the leaves of the plant, he is releasing more of the nepetalactone.
However, it is not all about getting “high.” Another reaction may surface — that of being laid back or sedated.
Most of the behaviors shown by cats who are exposed to catnip fall into one of the following categories:
- Rubbing and rolling
- Hunting or feeding
- Playfulness, such as chasing or pawing
It is thought that even cats who cannot smell will respond to catnip in one of the above mentioned ways.
A catnip “high” generally last only five to 15 minutes, after which another “high” cannot be reached for an hour or longer.
Which Cats Don’t React to Catnip?
Kittens younger than 8 weeks, as well as some senior cats, are not capable of experiencing the effects of catnip, and often pay it no attention.
Also, reaction to the plant is hereditary. If your cat does not have the “catnip gene” present in his body, he will not go ballistic when coming in contact with it.
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Can Cats Overdose on Catnip?
Now let’s return to that initial question: Is it true that cats OD on catnip?
In moderation, catnip is harmless to your cat. However, an “overdose” technically is possible, if by overdose we mean they can get sick. That’s because overeating fresh catnip may very well cause your pet to vomit or have diarrhea.
According to Dr. Shelby Neely, VMD, of Bryn Mawr, Penn., “Usually, cats seem to sense when they have had enough. They are very unlikely to overdose on catnip” and become sickened.
Dr. Susan Friend, DVM, agrees, adding that even if the cat does get sick, it should clear up on its own in time.
So if your purring pet is one of those who enjoys a little lifting of the spirits, indulge him. This favorite feline treat is nontoxic and presents no danger, and besides, you may get your own “high” as you watch him strut his stuff.