A tabby cat eating and licking up catnip. Photography © madsci | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Can Cats Eat Catnip?

It’s no secret that cats love catnip — but can cats eat catnip and are there any guidelines and do's and don’ts to keep in mind when feeding catnip to cats? Let’s find out.
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When cats and catnip get together, magic happens. We’ve all seen the combination in action: Your cat gets a whiff of the ‘nip and decides to act all weird, rolling around in a hilariously uncoordinated fashion. This happens because the oils in the catnip interact with your feline’s nasal tissues — which replicates pheromones that turn the cat’s internal crazy switch on. But beyond sniffing catnip, can cats eat catnip? And what happens when cats eat catnip?

Can Cats Eat Catnip Safely?

An orange cat sniffing catnip.
We all know that cats love catnip — but can cats eat catnip? Photography by gvictoria/Thinkstock.

So, can cats eat catnip safely? When it’s ingested, the catnip acts like a pleasing sedative for the cat. Therefore, if you serve up some catnip and notice your feline slipping into a totally blissed-out state of mind, she probably just scarfed some catnip down.

Can Cats Eat Catnip for Health Reasons?

Also, can cats eat catnip and expect to reap any health benefits? Technically, catnip is a part of the mint family. But despite being a natural herb that’s one of a number of plants that’s safe for a cat to eat, there aren’t really any vitamin or protein benefits for a cat who consumes this greenery.

“I honestly don’t feel there are any health benefits beyond the fact that cats enjoy it,” says Margaret Gates, founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation. “If it makes them happy, then I would view that as a psychological benefit, which would only be good.” She adds that indoor cats especially often need extra psychological stimulation: “If the cat likes catnip, why not?”

What Ways Can Cats Eat Catnip?

The next question after, “Can cats eat catnip?” is — how should you serve said catnip to your cats? There are three main ways that cats can eat catnip: In dried, liquid or fresh form. Of course, cats can be incredibly finicky and might ultimately make your catnip choice for you — like only engaging with the dried herb when it’s sprinkled over their favorite cardboard scratcher or bed. But let’s run through the pros and cons of each delivery method.

If you’re just beginning to introduce catnip to your cat, the dried form can be the easiest way to go. It’s readily available at pet stores and online and can be found at an affordable price point. The only downside is the issue of freshness: Just like the dried herbs in your kitchen, catnip is most potent in the first couple of months. Additionally, you might not know precisely how long that sachet of dried catnip has been sitting on a store’s shelves, and it might be stale.

Moving on, catnip sprays are usually promoted as a way to encourage your cat to use certain toys or pieces of furniture. The liquid can also be licked up by your cat — but due to the way it dries, this can be the least effective way to satisfy your cat’s ‘nip craving.

The Benefits of Fresh Catnip

If your feline is really into catnip, fresh is the best way to go. Small, pre-grown catnip plants are usually sold at pet stores and farmers markets. They’re easy to maintain — just add a little water while making sure there’s adequate drainage — and they also have the benefit of regrowing. Well, unless your cat totally demolishes the entire plant in a first sitting.

But watch out when you’re serving your cat a fresh catnip plant: She might become a little too enthusiastic while she’s chowing down on the leaves and knock the plant pot over. So, it’s best to stick to plastic pots.

Can Cats Eat Catnip — And Overdose on It?

While catnip is a natural plant, Margaret points out that it’s best to keep an eye on how much your feline is actually ingesting “as cats have no need to eat plant matter from a nutritional standpoint.” Moderation, like with many things, is key.

But don’t stress out too much: Even if your cat does manage to finagle a few extra secret catnip sessions, the outcome will likely only be vomiting it back up. Well, that and maybe some diarrhea. But that’ll pass.

Tell us: Does your cat like catnip? Does your cat like to eat catnip?

Thumbnail: Photography © madsci | iStock / Getty Images Plus. 

Read more about cat food and treats on Catster.com:

9 thoughts on “Can Cats Eat Catnip?”

  1. Celeste Collins-Bothma

    My cat is crazy about catnip. I bought a plant and found him chowing down on it on the patio. Nothing could keep him out! So we put it in a hanging basket and about twice a day he gets a leaf. At least the plant will survive now. It is the cutest thing in the world to watch him enjoy it.

  2. I love watching my fur babies. They know what drawer even kept in. All mine roll play in it then eat the leftover. Now 2 of mine not nippers. They could care less. The others I put down paper for each and give each their on and let the fun start ????

  3. Our sweet cat, little bit, got a hold of a bag of dried catnip. Oh goodness, first she played in it and was having a good time. Then she started eating the catnip and was, truly, out of control. I will need to keep the rest in an airtight canister up high in the cupboard. Also, around spring, I am going to try growing some fresh.

  4. Today I bought my 18 year old cat, Sherman, a catnip treat. He reacted exactly how this article said, he played with it and practically bounced off the walls. I left the room for about five minutes to find catnip strewn all over the floor and Sherman sleeping on my bed.

    1. mehmed paša sokolović

      Hey, I don’t know the whole context, but just noticed it, and so I wanted to say, if that is actually the case, that you adopted an older, fully grown cat, 18y olds as you said, that that is a really nice and unselfish thing to do. Judging from that, you sound like a really nice person. I’m sure Sherman will come to appreciate that over time.

  5. As a botanist, cat lover, and cat prankster, I’ve resolved the problem of catnip demolition i.e., a rapid and complete annihilation of those $7.00 catnip plants, by cultivating a dozen or more plants in pots and then offering them in rotation, like rotational grazing. While ‘Angel’ is having her way with one plant, the plants she destroyed in the days or weeks before are outside. recovering, until their next turn….

  6. My rescue Nebelung, Smokey Robinson, loves to eat the fresh catnip plants I keep out near his favorite “resting” spot near the back door. They are a bit expensive at around $7.00 each, but if you get a good one and transplant it into a pot after a week or two, it will grow like crazy. When I move soon, I plan to put in a catnip “patch” for him near the house so he can roll in it if he wants!

  7. lol!! I just had this wild and crazy visual of my cat Taffy. I come home and I find him laying across my bed with shades on puffing on a big cat nip joint while listening to Iron Butterfly’s “Ina garden vida” lol and letting out loud meows to the music! lol!

  8. I use it in homemade cat treats. Just a tablespoon of catnip with an egg and about 1lb of hamburger meat, mixed together, spread out on a cookie sheet, baked for about 20 minutes, and crumbled. He loves it! Haven’t noticed any of the reported effects of the catnip, but he does really go for those crumbles!

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