- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Like a moth to a flame, or more like a cat to catnip, cats can’t get enough of this herb-like treat. Catnip is part of the mint family and activates a cat’s “happy” brain center. Is catnip to cats like sugar is to humans—addictive but harmful? Or is it healthy? Should cats be ingesting catnip as food or just playing with it in a cat-safe toy?
Cats are born and bred obligate carnivores, so the foods we eat as omnivores don’t have the same benefits for felines. In the wild, cats get most of their diet from birds, vermin, and even insects, which all have essential amino acids that optimize a cat’s digestive system.
Historically, cats have always been particularly sensitive to smell, and catnip has an especially strong scent for cats.
Whether you sprinkle catnip on the floor for your cat to roll around in or throw a catnip toy up in the air, here are some facts about the unique nature of catnip.
Health (and Other) Benefits of Catnip
Also known as Nepeta cataria, this minty, lemony herb has been used in toys to train cats and is also easy to grow on your window sill. At the store, you usually find dried catnip in the freezer section stored in an airtight container to maintain the scent when not in use.
According to scientists, when a cat gets a whiff of catnip, it takes over their olfactory senses. You may notice some odd behaviors like hyperactivity, or rolling around on the floor in ecstasy over catnip. Don’t worry, your cat is having a great time!
However, if you notice the next day that the catnip is totally discarded, that is likely due to the scent being either rubbed off by your cat or disappearing from being in the open air.
Interestingly, while sniffing it makes cats energetic, eating it has the opposite effect. Catnip has been used for humans and cats as a calming agent, similar to chamomile. Often used to aid anxiety and insomnia, humans use catnip as tea for a minty relaxing drink. Cats may eat it directly with similar calming results.
Can Cats Eat Catnip?
Though it’s a bit of a stereotype that all cats go crazy over catnip, that isn’t necessarily true. In fact, according to PetMD, only about half of cats are wildly attracted to its intoxicating scent. Other cats may seem mildly interested or have no interest at all.
Before you buy some to test out, note that you won’t know if your cat enjoys catnip until they reach 3-6 months of age—the sensitivity doesn’t show up in young kittens.
Smelling catnip in cat toys is one thing for a cat—eating catnip for felines is a different story. When a cat actually eats catnip, it acts as a mild sedative. You may find your cat taking a long cat-nap after ingesting some.
In other words, catnip is totally safe to eat and has no addictive qualities. However, there is such a thing as having “too much” of a good thing. Catnip is considered more of an herb like parsley or oregano than food, so if your cat eats too much catnip they might have an upset stomach.
Alternative Healthy Snacks
If you’re looking for snacks to diversify your cat’s diet, catnip isn’t necessarily a good option due to lack of sustenance. Since your cat is an obligate carnivore, they enjoy meat-based products the most. If you want alternative suggestions beyond meat, consider vegetables.
“Pet owners can always try to give vegetables to cats in food or treats. Not all will eat them,” says Gary Richter, DVM, owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, California and Holistic Veterinary Care tells Rover.”There certainly are good nutrients in vegetables when part of a balanced meal.”
These veggies are not toxic to cats, according to the ASPCA:
- Celery (They love the crunch!)
- Green bell peppers
- Spinach (Filled with vitamins A, C, and K!)
- Peas (Often found in many prepackaged foods for cats and dogs as a vitamin-filled addition)
- Pumpkin (Pumpkin is used often as a way to get fiber in your cat’s diet)
Though vegetables can be beneficial to your cat’s diet, fruit can be harmful because of its high carbohydrate and sugar content. Between the two, definitely opt for veggies but avoid replacing full meals with them because your cat will miss out on the vital nutrients in properly formulated cat food.
“The large majority of what cats eat should be a balanced diet,” Dr. Richter says. “In general, treats are not balanced and should not make up a significant portion of their daily intake.”
Featured Image: Flickr@Katieb50