Is it safe for cats to eat catnip?

Catnip growing wild
Top photo by ChageAUS and bottom photo by cygnus921. Click on the image for a larger version. ‘Cat Village’ is an imaginary place for people and cats.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

On the internet, I don’t think you’ll find a clean clear answer to the question, “is it safe for cats to eat catnip?” You will find some answers about the safety of humans consuming catnip. You might know that catnip is used by humans as well. There is catnip tea, for example. It has a calming effect. In fact catnip has been accredited with many health benefits some of which are no doubt exaggerated.

Cats play with catnip toys very vigorously. Sometimes the contents are released and therefore they could be eaten. It is said that cats eat the catnip to promote the release of the chemical in it which provides the reaction that the cat desires.

There is still more to know about exactly what goes on when the chemical in catnip stimulates the cat’s brain. We don’t know all there is to know about how catnip works. This probably explains why we don’t know whether it’s safe for a cat to eat catnip.

Perhaps the answer is this: cats don’t eat catnip and if they do eat it, they only do so in very small amounts which are not harmful. Perhaps we should trust the cat. Cats can be confused about the safety of ingesting manmade products such as antifreeze but catnip is a natural product and animals don’t eat natural things which are harmful to them.

The Humane Society says that when cats eat catnip, which I think is quite rare, incidentally, it has a mellowing effect, which is the opposite of what initially happens when a cat smells catnip. However, after a cat has been excited and stimulated by smelling catnip I think you will find that he will chill out, lying next to the catnip toy for example.

The common sense answer to the question in the title is that it is safe for cats to eat small amounts of catnip but it may well be unsafe for a cat to eat more than small amounts but as this will never happen under normal circumstances, there isn’t a problem.

9 thoughts on “Is it safe for cats to eat catnip?”

  1. Catnip and catmint are essentially names for the same thing – a group of cat-attractant plants plants in the Nepeta genus. Nepeta cataria is true catnip. Nepeta × faassenii is a hybrid often sold as catnip or catmint, but which is weaker than N cataria. There are a couple of “lesser catmints” but these aren’t sold commercially. When you buy catmint tea or catmint for human consumption, you usually don’t know which species you’re getting.

    Eating catnip/catmint is fine as the cats digest the active ingredient. Just like eating grass, it’s a healthy habit and they’re very unlikely to overdo it. There are plenty of treats that include catnip in the recipe. I had to grow my catnip (for making catnip mice for charity sales) in a greenhouse whose door was protected by chickenwire.

    Hope this helps.

  2. I tried growing catnip from seed, and every time a few sprouts would come up, a feral cat would munch on them, so I gave up. If I were to grow it again, I’d buy a plant.

      • I planted the seeds from dry Catnip I purchased at the pet store. My cat loves fresh catnip. He eats what he wants then rolls on what’s left. Eventually I throw away the dried up left overs. Catnip is very different from Cat Mint! I think people use Cat Mint for tea. Fresh Catnip doesn’t smell very good to me and has no resemblance to Cat Mint, in smell or appearance. My cat has no interest in Cat Mint, but loves his Catnip! I hope this helped!

        • Thank you Cathy for passing on your first-hand experience of a cat eating catnip. It certainly didn’t help.

  3. Their nip is so strong the lady at the post office gives me funny looks because you can smell it through a box and 2 baggies 🙂

    • Gizzy also likes to roll around on her back in her nip before eating it. She loves it but we only give it to them on special occasions like the Facebook birthday parties and anniversary parties. People like to see pics of them loving their nip.

  4. We have several who eat catnip. One of Sealy’s friends sends us a special kind that’s used at her rescue. We sprinkle some on a table and the cats eat it up. We also keep a part of it separate and put their toys down in the bag to refresh. They don’t eat much and seem to enjoy it. Except Jasper. He gets mean. He’s like a mean drunk on nip so we have to monitor him and be prepared to put him in time out (kitty jail) if he’s bad.

    • Thanks Eliza for your useful comment which adds to the page. It seems that cats only eat a small amount of it meaning that they only wish to eat a small amount which is going to be safe.


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