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Is Catnip Bad For Cats?

Is catnip bad for cats? In all honestly, we never realised just how big a can of worms this question would open. On the cusp of introducing cat toys to our collection (surprise!), we wanted to understand more about catnip and whether or not it’s safe for, and enjoyed by cats. So, our resident sleuths went to sniff out the answers and what they discovered challenged everything we thought we know about catnip. Seriously! What if we told you that everything you knew… wasn’t true? If you want the scoop on the truth about catnip and whether or not your kitty should be indulging in it, keep reading.

What is catnip?

Catnip is a plant of the mint family which has green leaves and white or purple flowers. Catnip is often bought as dry, ground-up leaves or in cat toys to stimulate cats during play. Catnip also comes in spray form or as a plant that your cat can eat.

How does catnip work?

Cat sitting in catnip

This is the interesting bit! Previously, all we had were some fragmented theories about how catnip worked. Some thought that it was a kind of pheromone that made cats behave similarly to females in heat – but weirdly, it affected both sexes. And then there was the fact that some cats didn’t seem to respond to catnip at all – maybe there was a gene involved? But which gene?

None of the theories really added up. But now, new research has uncovered the truth about how catnip works and why (spoiler alert) all cats are attracted to it!

New findings: why do cats chew and roll around in catnip?

In a recent study, it was found that catnip (and silvervine, another plant with cat-attracting effects) contain chemicals known as iridoids. These chemicals are super effective insect repellents – just as effective as DEET! And most amazingly of all, this effect is further enhanced when the plant’s leaves are broken, crushed or chewed. Enter the cat!

Catnip and cats have found an agreement that is mutually beneficial. If the cat licks, chews and rolls around in the catnip leaves, not only does that catnip insect repellent work better, further protecting the plant, it protects the cat from bugs too. As ambush predators, cats often lay in wait, stalking their prey. Anointing their fur with a super strong insect repellent keeps the bugs at bay, and allows them to sit still without getting bitten by mozzies.

New findings: how does catnip make cats feel?

But the new revelations don’t stop there. Scientists have also found that when our cats’ noses are exposed to the scent of catnip, it results in a release of endorphins that activate the pleasure centres in their brain. It’s the same process that gives us humans that feeling of ‘runner’s high’. So it seems like our cats aren’t just interacting with catnip as an insect-killing chore - they‘re also experiencing a feel-good buzz from it!

Is catnip a drug?

cat with catnip

No, catnip is not a drug but the endorphin rush it triggers does stimulate the pleasure centres in your cat’s brain. Here’s the key difference: with a drug, the more you take, the more of a response you get. With catnip, the the body naturally self-regulates the endorphin rush it triggers, dampening down the response after just 10-15 minutes so they don’t keep getting more and more stimulated, no matter how much catnip they are exposed to. It’s like runner’s high – you can’t just keep running all day and feeling more and more high! That’s good news, because it means that catnip doesn’t have risks associated with drugs like addiction or withdrawal.

New findings: Do all cats react to catnip?

Incredibly, yes! A new study has found that all cats do have a response to catnip, but previously more focus was given to the frantic rolling around and acting a little crazy. These researchers found that other cats respond to catnip by going into a calm state (think super chilled). You might find your kitty in a post-catnip sphinx pose. This is most often the case in kittens and younger cats.

Why doesn’t my cat react to catnip?

cat sitting

Studies suggest that all cats react to catnip, but that some cats are active responders (rolling, hyperactive) and others have a more passive response (e.g. sitting in sphynx pose). So if your cat doesn’t noticeably go loopy over catnip, you may have a more passive responder on your hands!

Is catnip safe for cats?

Yes, catnip is completely safe for cats. Catnip can be sniffed, chewed and ingested by your cat. However, ingesting high amounts of catnip can cause your kitty to get an upset stomach so be careful of the dose.

Is catnip safe for kittens?

Yes, catnip is safe for kittens. Your kitten can indulge in rolling around and smelling catnip until their little hearts are content. It is advised that they do not ingest high quantities as it can upset their stomachs (like when you eat the extra bar of chocolate that you said you wouldn’t). If you are worried about this amount, opt for catnip toys or sprays instead of dry leaves to limit ingestion.

Can you give your cat too much catnip?

cat with catnip

Yes and no. In terms of how much they eat, you should be careful to limit this because over-indulging can lead to an upset stomach but that’s the worst that can happen. Catnip toys and sprays are a great way to let your cat smell catnip and feel the effects without ingesting any. Due to your cat’s ability to self-regulate, catnip only has an effect for around 10-15 minutes at a time so there’s no risk of them overdoing it.


So there you have it! Catnip is a super savvy insect-repelling plant, that has roped cats into helping it and in return, makes them feel really good. The next time you give your cutie catnip just know, that although they might not be running around enthusiastically, they’re still going crazy for catnip – on the inside!

P.S. We’re super excited to be introducing cat toys to our accessories collection. If you want to be kept in the loop, make sure you sign up for our mailing list and follow us on social media!

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