Does Catnip Hurt Cats Long Term?

Never fear if that toy contains catnip -- it's perfectly safe!

Never fear if that toy contains catnip -- it's perfectly safe!

You may have seen your furry buddy rolling around or drooling in ecstasy after encountering a toy stuffed with catnip, known for its drug-like effect on our feline friends. Fortunately, these effects are temporary and perfectly safe for your kitty, with no dangerous long-term side effects to worry about.

Why Catnip?

The catnip plant, Nepeta cataria, is a member of the mint family which contains a chemical called nepetalactone. This essential oil, found in the leaves and stems of the plant itself, is what attracts kitties it. When a kitty smells this oil, it acts as a stimulant, causing your usually sedentary feline to zoom around the room. Other times, it can result in mild aggression. If your kitty eats the leaves of the plant, he'll most likely take a nap because it has a sedative effect. Fortunately, whether eaten or sniffed, the effects only last about 10 to 30 minutes and don't result in any lasting side effects. Typically, your furry friend won't be tempted by the catnip for two hours after his initial play session, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

What It Does

Exposure to catnip causes a kitty to roll around, smell the plant or toy and generally act pretty goofy. It seems that the nepetalactone contained in the catnip mimics a type of sexual or happy pheromone to your kitty, according to Veterinary Practice News. Once your little furball smells that scent, he will be rolling in ecstasy, similar to the behavior of a female kitty in heat. Your little buddy may also begin meowing or zipping around the room, seeming to react to things that aren't there. This could indicate a mild hallucinatory effect of the herb, according to an article published in the June 1990 edition of the "Canadian Veterinary Journal."

Is It Harmful?

While it seems that catnip has effects on kitties similar to illegal drugs in humans, it is not a drug, nor is it unsafe for your furry friend to partake of some catnip now and again. The only potentially unpleasant side effect for your little one is some mild diarrhea or vomiting if he eats a large amount of the herb, according to PetMD. Consult with your vet if you are concerned after your kitty eats bunches of catnip and only allow him access to a small amount of it in the future.

Constant Exposure

Too much of a good thing is never desirable and this applies to catnip for kitties. Catnip isn't addictive; in fact, your feline friend can become virtually immune to catnip if constantly exposed to it. To keep your cat's favorite catnip toys attractive, store them away for a day or two at a time before reintroducing them. This will keep the fun factor present in them -- plus, it's a great way to surprise your furry friend regularly with a catnip "treat."

Considerations

Not all kitties are impressed with the wonders of catnip, but rather only about 50 percent of them, according to Cats International. Young kittens, 3 months or younger don't react to the herb either. If your kitty does enjoy catnip, you can purchase catnip-stuffed toys for him or grow some yourself in your garden. It's OK for your furry buddy to smell or nibble on the leaves and stems directly from the plant itself. For the safety of your kitty, don't use any pesticides around the plants. Remember, your furry buddy can't overdose or be harmed by catnip, but it can make him more active, which is especially helpful for a sedentary feline.

 

About the Author

Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, crafts, television, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared in "The Southern California Anthology" and on Epinions. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.

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