How Much Catnip Is Too Much For Cats?

gray cat enjoying fresh catnip

How much catnip is too much for cats? For some, no matter how much you give them they have no reaction to this herb. For others who react wildly, it doesn’t matter how much you give because they become desensitized quite quickly and lose interest for several hours. If they are eating catnip watch out that they don’t get so much that they develop an upset stomach. Half a teaspoon should be enough to avoid trouble!

Our cats are usually one of the family and have the tendency to offer us love and affection, albeit in their own time and on their own terms! But the affection of our feline friends brings us great health benefits and emotional benefits. Sometimes it can be nice to return that affection by giving them a treat that you can tell they wildly enjoy. Catnip can often be that treat. 

flowering catnip growing wild
Flowering Catnip

What Is Catnip?

Catnip is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It is a flowering, shrubby bush that produces pink flowers. It is closely related to peppermint, sage, thyme, lavender, and basil and is found worldwide. It can be quite invasive as a plant and if you plant it in your garden it can roam and take over borders quite quickly if not kept in check.

Catnip is considered to be a plant that is safe for cats and the dried herb is found in a range of toys and cat treats as well as being supplied as a dried herb specifically for use with cats. 

What Does Catnip Do To Cats?

Catnip contains an essential oil called nepetalactone. The oil is thought to be a natural insecticide produced by the plant for protection. 

The smell of the oil appears to act as a very strong pheromone on cats. But, not all cats are affected. As many as 50% have no absolutely no reaction to it – you may as well wave any bushy plant under their nose. 

This can be slightly disappointing if you have bought catnip as a treat. The nonreaction can be like someone receiving a gift and acting ungratefully! Somewhat disappointing!

In the 50% of cats who are sensitive to the aroma of the oil, a whiff of the catnip tends to cause hyperactivity, rolling around, running around wildly, jumping all with a crazy look in the eye. 

The same cats, if given the herb orally, seem to be affected by a different set of symptoms. Many will zone out, yawn, become lethargic, purr relentlessly, drool, and take more naps than usual.

For the unaffected cats, there is no effect either to eating or smelling the herb.

tabby cat eating catnip with funny face

Is Catnip Like Drugs For Cats?

Catnip is not a drug to cats like, say, opiates are to humans. A more accurate depiction might be that catnip has a similar effect to that of chocolate on humans. Generally pleasant to some people but once you have had your fill you’re done. You don’t have any physiological reason to take a hit of chocolate every couple of hours or days and neither do cats with catnip! 

Basically, catnip provides a cat that is sensitive to it with a moderately pleasant experience without the cat becoming dependent on the experience. In fact, after a dose, or a catnip moment, they will generally return to normal within an hour and be desensitized to the aroma/experience for some time – it may be as long as several hours before they even seem to notice the catnip aroma again.

ginger and white tabby cat enjoying fresh catnip in a garden

How Much Catnip Can You Give A Cat?

In terms of the aroma as much as you like. Most cats tend to self-regulate on their exposure to catnip. After a certain dose, they become desensitized, lose interest, and walk away. But for a short time, they seem to lose their mind!

Usually, after initially encountering the aroma of the catnip an affected cat will zone out, go wild, behave unusually, but with obvious pleasure for up to an hour, and will then come back around, lose interest having become desensitized, and will not even react to anymore, no matter the quantity for at least a couple of hours.

In terms of feeding your cat dried catnip, a small dose is all you should offer. Think something in the region of a flat teaspoon at the most.  The problem is that too much of the dried herb can cause digestive irritation leading to gas, bloating, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. It won’t produce a medical overdose as such, just a digestive problem!

Can Cats Have Catnip every day?

In theory, a cat could have catnip every day. But in practice, it is best to limit the experience to several times a week at most. This will ensure they do not become desensitized and can continue to enjoy the experience over the longer term. Think of catnip as a special treat rather than a weekly event.

two cats running playfully through a house going hyper
Hyper Time

What About Kittens – How Much Can They Have?

What about kittens, are they affected by catnip in the same way? For some reason, kittens seem to have less of a reaction to catnip than adult cats. It is believed that many kittens do not develop the ability to sense and enjoy catnip until they are more than 6 months old. 

In general, it is not worth giving a young kitten catnip. Until they are older and have had a chance for their senses to fully develop. Even then, 50% of cats show no interest whatsoever in the herb!

Strangely, older cats in late life also seem to have less of a reaction to catnip. Almost like they have a time-limited sensitivity and once they have had so much catnip that is them done. Or they have just grown older and wiser to it and are no longer interested in the stuff.

What about cats that are pregnant? Is it ok to give them some catnip from time to time? Generally speaking, it is considered unwise to allow pregnant cats to enjoy catnip as no one is really sure how it might affect the unborn kittens, if at all.

a tabby cat stalking a toy mouse
Catnip Toy Mouse

Cat A Cat Overdose On Catnip?

Now you should be aware that cats cannot overdose on catnip because their sensitivity to the aroma that sends them wild wears off after an hour or so and does not re-sensitize for several hours. They basically have a self-regulating mechanism for the odor. 

And, in terms of eating catnip, the major issue is more likely to be irritation of the digestive system which will cause them to vomit. They won’t pass out or go into a coma from having too much of the dried herb sprinkled on food!

How Much Catnip Is Too Much For Cats

Keep it to a teaspoon at most of the dried stuff if feeding your cat catnip and don’t worry about how much aroma they enjoy.

Try to avoid giving them catnip regularly as overexposure leads to desensitization which means they lose the ability to get pleasure from the experience.