Is catnip okay for kittens?

Yes, catnip is okay for kittens but Dr Desmond Morris writes in his book Cat World that, “Young kittens do not show the response. For the first two months of life all kittens avoid catnip, and the positive response does not appear until they are three months old”. Has your kitten responded contrary to Dr Morris’s opinion?

Catnip growing wild
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He then goes on to write that at 3 months old domestic cats split into two groups. In one group there are those that no longer actively avoid catnip but ignore it and treat it like any other plant. The other group go nuts about catnip and thoroughly enjoy it. Each group represents about 50% of the population of cats. Although the group that enjoys it is slightly larger than those that are disinterested.

Catnip hangover
Catnip hangover. Image: public domain. Words added.

There is nothing to suggest that the chemical in catnip, nepetalactone, which produces this interesting response in domestic cat, is harmful and there appears to be no hangover. In fact, it is a way for a cat to enjoy themselves. Cats respond to it in varying degrees. Nepetalactone is present in the plant’s stems and leaves. Dr Morris stresses that unlike the drugs used by humans which can damage us, and often do, “catnip does no lasting damage, and after the ten-minute experience is over the cat is back to normal with no ill-effects.”

It’s worth reminding ourselves that all cats both wild and domestic can enjoy this minor drug trip which apparently produced a state of ecstasy. A cat’s genetics dictates whether they react to it or not. They are either born a catnip-junkie or not!

All cat owners are fairly familiar with a cat’s positive reaction to the presence of catnip. The Latin, scientific name for the plant is Nepeta cataria. You can see that it contains a reference to the cat in the second word.

Sphynx cat eating catnip is a shocker
Sphynx cat eating catnip is a shocker. Photo: Andrew Marttila

Sometimes cats even eat it but this is considered unharmful as well (but see below). Both females and males react to it in a similar way. And it doesn’t matter whether the female cat is spayed or the male cat is neutered. It’s all in the head. It is not considered to be a “sex trip” but a drug which produces “similar states of ecstasy to those experienced during the peak of sexual activity.”

It’s also worth mentioning that another plant, Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) also produces similar reaction. It is said that when catnip or valerian is administered to cats internally it acts as a tranquilizer. It’s a mystery why the drug produces a high when sniffed but a low when ingested.

The active agent in catnip
The active agent in catnip.

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