How Much Catnip Should You Give a Cat?

Published: 6/25/2021
If you’ve welcomed a furry feline into your life, then you are no stranger to the pawsome benefits these loving critters bring. From the healing power of their purring, to the unconditional love they shower us with, cats are special indeed.

When you are looking to give some of that love back, treats and toys are obvious choices for cat happiness, but catnip is in a category all its own. This unique plant can make some cats go bonkers, and is widely available as a dried herb, stuffed into toys, and even inside catnip bubbles!

Whether you’ve already exposed your cat to the nip, or are trying it for the first time, you may have noticed that it doesn’t come with any instructions. Just how much catnip should cats get? Let’s explore how much catnip is safe for your cat, and why your cat even wants this weedy plant at all. But first, what is catnip?


What is Catnip?

Catnip is a member of the mint family, or Lamiaceae family, which includes the human favorites peppermint, sage, basil, thyme, and lavender. Also called catmint or catwort, Nepeta cataria can be found growing wild throughout the world, including the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

This weed sprouts lovely pink speckled flowers, and has a smell that is quite distinctive. That’s due to a special oil inside the plant that attracts the attention of felines, and helped give this plant its name.


How Catnip Affects Your Cat

So why does your cat go crazy when they smell catnip? It’s because of the essential oil hidden inside called nepetalactone. Nature created it to protect plants in the Nepeta genus from insects, but this chemical is also thought to mimic cat pheromones. That’s why many cats are attracted to it, and react in all sorts of unusual ways.

Generally, there are two reactions to catnip. The first is the stereotypical hyperactive behavior catnip is known to induce, such as running around, rolling, and flipping wildly with wide, crazy eyes. This reaction occurs when cats smell catnip, whether they sniff a pile of the dried stuff, or smell it in toys or rubbed on cat trees. However, when eaten, catnip typically produces a sedative effect which can cause kitties to act sleepy, purr, drool and nap.

Some cats, though, have no reaction at all. It is estimated that only 50% to 75% of cats are genetically hard-wired to be affected by catnip. If your cat turns their nose away when you get out that bag of green, dried herb, they may be one of those felines who simply aren’t affected. And for those cats who do feel catnip’s furbulous effects, they won’t be receptive to catnip until they are at least over 3 months old. 


How Much Catnip Should You Give Your Cat?

It’s difficult to know how much catnip you should give your cat, as catnip packaging usually doesn’t offer any instructions. And that’s because there really aren’t any standard guidelines to follow. Catnip is considered safe, and cats seem to have an innate knowledge about when to stop eating or sniffing it.

In fact, cats not only instinctively know when they’ve had enough, but their bodies actually turn off their receptivity to catnip after they’ve ingested some, which is about the time your cat loses interest. It can take up to two hours for your cat’s body to reset and be able to feel the affects of catnip again.

And while cats are highly unlikely to overdose on catnip, there’s always a chance that they may eat too much and affect their digestive system, which can result in vomiting and diarrhea. If these symptoms occur, you’ll need to cut back on the amount you give them, but they should pass without any other side effects. If they don’t, however, take your cat to the veterinarian to find out why they symptoms are continuing.

So how much is too much, or how much should you start with? Simply put, start small and watch how your cat reacts. Check out the following tips when giving catnip to your cat.


Tips on how to give catnip to your cat

#1 Try the Smell Test. Rub catnip on toys, a cat tree or scratching post first and see how your cat reacts. If they get excited, rub themselves all over the smelly objects and become hyperactive, your cat is one of the lucky 50% to 75%!

#2 Start Small. Add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of dried catnip to a small plate or bowl, and set in front of your cat. Then, watch the antics as they lick, eat and roll in it! Next time, you can add a little more and see what your cat eats and what they leave behind, as this can tell you how much their body can handle, and what your average dose should be.

#3 Careful with Kittens. For very young kitties, start smaller with a teaspoon or less of dried catnip, or just a small toy rubbed in catnip, and be sure your little feline is at least over 3 months old. Note that some kitties need to be a bit older to really be affected by the nip.

#4 Spread It Out. Space out the catnip indulgences as your cat can become less sensitive to it if they are exposed to it often. Save it for playtimes and special times, and don’t just leave catnip out for them all the time.

#5 Keep it Safe. If your cat is a crazy critter who crashes and bashes into things after a nip dip, give them a safe area to play in by removing any dangerous obstacles. It may also be best to give catnip to your indoor/outdoor cat when they are safe inside to prevent any wandering or dangerous situations.

#6 Share the Love. Catnip isn’t just for your cat, as you can enjoy it too! For humans, catnip produces a sedative, calming affect and can be easily consumed as a tea. With a small pile for your kitty, and a steaming cup for you, you can bond over a mutual love of this meowtastic herb and relax with your best feline furiend.

Enjoy!


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