What is Catnip Poisoning?
A cat’s response to catnip is mediated through the olfactory system, or sense of smell. As with any scent, the active ingredient of the scent source enters the nasal passages and binds to the receptors in the olfactory system. This action stimulates the sensory neurons which then go on to trigger the olfactory bulb to send signals to the brain. Felines are especially sensitive to the smell of catnip because they have a specialized receptor in the hard palate (roof of the mouth) known as the vomeronasal organ. This olfactory organ is receptive to the active ingredient in catnip, called nepetalactone, causing the feline to display dramatic behavior of running, jumping, drooling, rubbing, licking and rolling on the ground. Researchers believe the plant to cause a similar release of feel-good pheromones as marijuana, but catnip does not affect all cats in the same way. Only 50 to 60 percent of felines can pick up on the scents released by the weed-like plant and kittens, as well as older felines, are not affected at all.
Catnip is a perennial herb from the Labiatae mint family. Catnip can be identified by its heart shaped, scalloped leaves, hairy stalk and greenish/grey coloration. Catnip is native to North America, known for its unique effect on cats. Catnip releases feel-good pheromones that over half the feline population are heavily attracted to, displaying a subdued or in-love behavior. Although catnip is not a true toxin and is not addictive, consuming the plant in large amounts can cause a poison-like reaction. A feline that has consumed too much catnip will display clinical signs of vomiting and diarrhea with no other accompanying symptoms.
Symptoms of Catnip Poisoning in Cats
Catnip poisoning in cats will cause clinical signs of diarrhea and vomiting. No other symptoms have been reported to accompany gastrointestinal upset and occasional lethargy associated with this form of feline toxicity.
Causes of Catnip Poisoning in Cats
Catnip poisoning in cats is caused by an ingested overdose of the week-like herb. The active ingredient in catnip, nepetalactone, is the element for which felines are drawn to catnip and the cause of the toxic-like reaction. Although nepetalactone is not a true toxic element, a large quantity of fresh catnip can make the cat sick and display symptoms that mimic a reaction to poisoning.
Diagnosis of Catnip Poisoning in Cats
Diagnosing catnip poisoning in cats is difficult, as there is no specific test available for identifying this type of toxicity. Your veterinarian’s diagnosis will be based on ruling out other possible causes of your feline’s current condition that could cause similar symptoms that mimic catnip poisoning. The diagnostic process will begin with a physical examination, review of the feline’s medical history and a consultation with the pet owner. It will be important for you to inform the veterinarian about your feline’s recent actions and exposure to catnip, as this information will aid in ruling out other possible causes. The clinical signs that catnip poisoning causes in cats, such as vomiting and diarrhea, are the same symptoms as several other feline-related health conditions. The veterinarian will want to conduct a series of diagnostic tests to ensure your cat is truly suffering from a catnip toxicity and not a more severe underlying condition. Diagnostic tests the veterinarian will likely request to be performed on the feline include:
- CBC (complete blood cell count)
- Biochemical profile (blood work)
- Blood smear test
- Urinalysis (examination of urine)
- Fecal floatation test
- Fecal examination
- Abdominal ultrasound and/or x-ray
Treatment of Catnip Poisoning in Cats
As catnip poisoning is not a true poisoning to felines and mainly an overdose of the stimulant, there is no true treatment specifically deemed for catnip poisoning in cats. The cat’s own body does a fairly adequate job of removing the toxin from the body through vomiting and passing the digested particles through waste. However, a feline may require veterinary attention to induce vomiting and replenish fluids. An emetic drug, or drug that encourages vomiting, paired with intravenous fluids may be administered to the feline upon veterinary visitation.
Recovery of Catnip Poisoning in Cats
The toxic effects of catnip poisoning in cats is short-lived, lasting only a few hours after the occurrence of vomiting or diarrhea. Without further exposure to the plant, the feline will make a full recovery in a few short hours. Your veterinarian will likely ask you to encourage the feline to consume a larger amount of water than usual to further eliminate the toxin from the body for the day of toxic intake, but activities should return to normal. To prevent a future toxic occurrence in the future, the amount of catnip your cat is exposed to should be limited or denied altogether.