All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is catnip bad for cats?

Dear Marie,

Believe it or not, after having cats all my life, I just bought plain catnip (not in a toy) and gave it to my cat. He went nuts over it. He rolled in it. He ate it and got it all over his face and then he passed out in it. He seemed totally drunk. It was really funny – but as I think about it, this can’t be good for him. I know people have given catnip to cats since the beginning of time, but is this bad for cats? I feel like I’m a drug pusher! Thank you for your thoughts on this.

Judy, Anaheim

Dear Judy,Don’t worry. You’re not giving your cat anything harmful. The active ingredient in catnip (part of the mint family) is nepetalactone and even though it does seem to bring on a fairly intense “cat buzz,” it is completely harmless. No one knows when people first discovered that cats love catnip. In fact, human beings have been using catnip for themselves for centuries. Some claim it cures migraine headaches. Some use it in teas for relaxation purposes. In the late fifteen-hundreds, it was first described in a medical book as an essential herb that cures everything from stomach ailments to insomnia. It was brought to North America in the seventeenth century by European colonists who valued its medicinal qualities. The list of herbal uses, even today, goes on and on. But in spite of that, catnip is most famous for what it does to cats. And who can argue about how much fun it is to watch a couple of kitties playing together after munching on this special treat.

Interestingly, not all cats have a reaction to catnip. About one in three felines completely ignore it and kittens under 6 months of age aren’t interested either. Some scientists believe that the response that susceptible cats exhibit may be sexually linked because the active ingredient in catnip may mimic a certain pheromone. Cats seem to exhibit many of the same playful behaviors that are observed in courtship after being exposed to the herb. However, other experts seem to believe that the response is more equivalent to what humans experience after using marijuana. The main point here is that no one really knows for sure why cats react as they do to catnip; but all experts agree that it is in no way dangerous. In very rare cases, some cats may experience vomiting or diarrhea after ingesting fresh catnip. If this is the case with your cat, then I would recommend not giving it to him anymore.

You may be interested in knowing that housecats aren’t the only felines to go nuts for catnip. Lions and tigers also enjoy it. I’ve never personally seen a lion or tiger “under the influence,” but I bet it is quite something!

Catnip is non-addictive. In fact, it’s just the opposite. If you give your cat too much, over time he will eventually stop having any reaction and interest to it. It’s best to keep a little around in a zip lock pouch and bring it out for special occasions every now and then. However, don’t buy a huge supply and store it. Catnip loses its potency if stored for long periods so it is best to buy it in small quantities. It’s relatively cheap and if you want, you can even grow it.

You can buy catnip seeds and young plants in many nurseries. Catnip prefers being in full sun, however if you don’t have that in your yard, partial shade is probably going to work. The plant prefers a sandy soil and will actually be more aromatic and thus more stimulating for your kitty if you prepare a soil bed of this nature. Your plant should grow between one and four feet tall depending on which variety it is. However, don’t be surprised if a collection of neighborhood cats end up hanging around your back yard once your garden starts growing! It’s a powerful attractant.

To keep your plants growing longer, you should cut the buds off as they grow. Harvest whole stems with leaves and hang them to dry in a dark closet for about a week. Then they are ready to serve. Eventually, as your plants begin to look a little worn, you can allow them to go to seed. Catnip reseeds itself very well and you will be able to get crop after crop of fresh catnip for years to come. Enjoy.


  1. Sweet! Thanks for the information. One of my cats got to a bag of catnip and tore it open. I was wondering if I should take him to detox.

  2. LOL. Thanks for the comment - it reminded me that I need to post some new stuff!
    :) Marie