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?
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.