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Is Catnip Safe for Dogs, Cats and Other Pets?

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Catnip is a herb that cats love.  It has a soothing, relaxing effect on all cats. As a cat owner you probably know all that, But what about your other pets? For example, is catnip safe for dogs?  What about rabbits and other cage pets? In this article you’ll learn about catnip safety for your cats, kittens and all of your furry pets.  

Starting with the basics — catnip is a mint family plant that contains nepetalactone, a safe but non-nutritional chemical. This chemical is mesmerizingly good “cat candy” that can have an effect on cats ranging from very stimulating to very mellowing.  Although catnip usually makes cats more active and playful, not all cats react the same way to catnip.  The effects of catnip, while generally safe, can truly vary from cat to cat.

So, is catnip safe just for cats or is it ok for other pets too? While catnip is considered a safe stimulant for cats, the herb should be given to your cat in moderation to avoid any unexpected side effects.  As for other pets, the effects of catnip are not well studied.  It remains unclear whether catnip is actually safe or should even be recommended for other pets.  If you read someone’s assumption on the internet that catnip is okay for dogs or any non-cat pets, then you can safely assume that person grows catnip for a living. While catnip may be perfectly safe for non-cat pets, we simply do not know for sure.  

Be careful and watchful so your furry friend doesn’t have problems after consuming catnip.

What is Catnip?

If you’re a cat lover then you’ve likely heard of catnip. But what is it exactly?

Catnip belongs to the mint family and is a pretty common herb. It’s native to Europe, but catnip is now grown just about everywhere. Nepeta cataria is the scientific name for catnip and the active ingredient in it is a chemical compound called nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is found in the leaves and stems of the catnip plant.

How Does Catnip Work?

Catnip is known for its stimulating and positive effects on cats. When cats smell, rub in, or eat catnip it often triggers a range of behaviours like rolling around, drooling, purring, and even hyperactivity. The reason for this is that nepetalactone acts as a stimulant on the cat’s brain. The chemical binds to specific cell receptors which cause the release of specialized chemicals that cause a feeling of euphoria and relaxation. Those effects of catnip usually last for about 10-15 minutes then the cat typically loses interest leaving the catnip to explore something else that has grabbed their curiosity.

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Why Do Cats Love Catnip?

Firstly, not all cats respond to catnip — but those that do seem to love it. The reason may be related to genetics, but that is only a theory now.  That presumption is based on the reported findings that some cats may have a gene that makes them more sensitive to nepetalactone. 

Secondly, cats that are exposed to catnip at a young age reportedly are more likely to develop a sensitivity to it. 

Thirdly, it is possible that catnip mimics the effects of certain pheromones.  This, in turn, makes cats feel more relaxed and content.

Although catnip is a stimulating drug of sorts, generally it is recognized as safe for cats.  But, use catnip sparingly and pay attention to your cat when it’s playing with catnip or catnip infused toys. After all, some cats can become overly excited or aggressive when frolicking in catnip.  Obviously, this can lead to injury or damage to people, pets, and property.  Some cats may be allergic to catnip, unbeknown to you so always start with a small amount then carefully watch your cat.  If all goes well then you can step-up the amount of catnip your cat can get into.

Is Catnip Safe for Dogs and Other Pets?

Potential Risks of Catnip for Cats and Other Pets

Catnip is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for cats, but it’s important to only allow them moderate access to avoid any potential risks and side effects. Giving your cat too much catnip at one time can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, odd behaviour, and excessive drooling. Additionally, some cats may have an allergic reaction to catnip.  Allergies can cause skin irritation, eye problems, respiratory distress, and other symptoms.

While catnip may be perfectly safe for dogs and other non-cat pets, the fact is that no one really knows.  Indeed, the potential exists for digestive upset, allergic reactions, odd behaviour, stupor, heart and lung disorders, etc. in non-cat pets because we really don’t know.

There are certainly some situations when any pet—even some cats—should not have access to any form of catnip.   Examples of some situations could be:

  • Known pet digestive problems like a sensitive stomach
  • Your pet is pregnant or nursing  
  • If your pet has recently had surgery or is on any medications
  • If the pet has known health issues, ask your veterinarian about catnip.

Without a doubt, catnip and catnip products can be a fun and safe way to enrich, stimulate, and train your pets.  But, it’s important to keep an eye on your pet’s reactions and any changes in its behaviour. Ask your vet if you still have any concerns or questions about safely giving catnip to your family pet.

How to Use Catnip Safely

If you’re considering giving catnip to your pet, it’s important to know how to use it safely. 

Here are some tips that may help:

Dos and Don’ts

  • Use catnip in moderation. While it’s generally safe, too much of a good thing can cause your pet to become overly excited or even sick.
  • Offer catnip to your pet in a safe environment. Make sure there are no breakable or dangerous objects nearby.  
  • Supervise your pet when they’re ingesting or playing with catnip. 
  • Don’t give catnip to kittens under six months old. Young kittens may not have the necessary enzymes to digest it correctly.
  • Don’t give catnip to pregnant or nursing cats. Regardless of what you’ve read or been told, catnip’s effects on developing fetuses or nursing kittens are unknown.
  • Don’t give any pet catnip too often. Using it sparingly once or twice a week is often enough. 

Alternative Ways to Engage Your Pet

Here are some other ways to have fun with your pet, 

  • Interactive toys, such as a laser pointer or a puzzle feeder. These can provide mental stimulation and keep your pet entertained for longer periods of time.
  • Offer a variety of safe toys, such as Greenies chews, chew toys, tennis balls, Kong toys, stuffed animals, knotted old socks, and feather wands. This can help prevent boredom and keep your pet engaged.
  • Provide your cat with a scratching post or pad. This will help satisfy their natural urge to scratch and keep them from damaging your furniture.
  • Regardless if your pet is a dog, cat, rabbit, or hamster — make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise. Regular playtime and walks are good for your pet and you!
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So is catnip safe for dogs, cats and other pets? Catnip is generally thought of and promoted as safe for pets, but it’s important to use it in moderation and to monitor your pet’s reaction to it. Be very watchful of your dogs and cage pets when catnip in any form is given to them.  Some pets react badly to it so be careful. It’s true that most cats have a strong affinity to catnip but dogs are not usually as enamoured of it as cats. 

Anise is sometimes given to dogs.  Anise is safe for dogs and is sometimes called the “catnip for dogs” or “dognip” but not all dogs will like it.  The thing is that you need to be careful regardless of what type of pet(s) you have. Catnip can cause significant health concerns if the pet reacts badly to it, and that includes cats!

Be sure to give your pet only fresh or dried catnip. Pet toys infused with catnip essential oils can cause an upset stomach, leading to vomiting, diarrhoea, sinus and eye problems, or even heart and lung problems.   Also, because catnip is a stimulant, don’t give it to pets with a history of seizures or other neurological issues. 

Generally speaking, catnip can be a fun and safe treat for your furry friend, but only use it responsibly and in moderation. Watch your pet closely while it is exposed to catnip.  Don’t overdo it — once or twice a week is often enough. 

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