Cats love catnip. And it's perfectly safe - there's nothing in it that can harm your cat. If by some chance your cat was to eat a large amount of catnip, it could cause a mild tummy upset, but that's not likely to happen.
What is Catnip?
Catnip is a perennial herb of the mint family. It originated in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean but now commonly grows wild throughout Europe and North America. The plant's nicknames, catnip, catmint or catwort are no doubt inspired by cat's well-known taste for the plants.
Why do cats love it?
The active compound in catnip is nepetalactone. Cats detect this compound by smell. It's generally thought that the nepetalactone mimics the effect of a cat pheromone, possibly associated with mating.
Catnip acts as a natural mood enhancer. It might make your cat act quite unusually; she may become more kittenish or particularly affectionate. She may also roll, paw or rub her face in the source of the catnip. Or she may jump about and become frisky, running from room to room appearing to chase invisible prey.
Some cats will just become very relaxed and stare into space. All of this behaviour may be marked by a lot of meowing or growling. The effects of catnip are short, usually lasting between 5 to 15 minutes. After that it will be a couple of hours before a cat will demonstrate the effects of catnip again.
Why give catnip to my cat?
Because your cat will enjoy being given catnip, it makes a great treat to be used during training or to encourage a cat to use a scratching post or sleep in her own bed. It can also be a good way to encourage your cat to exercise, it may even help your cat relax. Whatever the reason, it's good fun!
How should I give catnip to my cat?
Catnip products come in a variety of forms. You can buy powdered catnip or catnip bulbs which you can sprinkle on the ground or on a toy. Some toys come pre-scented with catnip or have catnip inside them. You can also get catnip oil or oil spray, which can be used to scent a toy or bedding. Cats will react to even very small amounts of catnip so you don't need to use very much.
My cat doesn't seem to be responding to catnip.
About 30% of cats have no observable response to catnip. Being affected by catnip is apparently an inherited trait. Many cats simply don't have the receptors to be affected by catnip.
Despite their playful nature, kittens don't generally respond to catnip until after their first six months. You may also find that as your cat gets older, she loses interest in catnip.
Catnip seems to make my cat aggressive
Some cats, usually males, will become aggressive when you give them catnip, possibly because of catnip's connection to mating behaviour. If this is the case with your cat, then stop.
You might consider an alternative like honey-suckle or valerian. Talk with your vet, he or she will be able to tell you if they think catnip is right for your pet or recommend other alternatives.