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Dog sitting in catnip
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Catnip is an herb in the mint family that’s commonly associated with cats. It’s sometimes called catmint or catswort. Catnip produces psychoactive effects in two thirds of felines and is commonly included in cat toys and cat treats.

Cats usually relax when they smell catnip. The active compound nepetalactone causes them to become mellow and roll around on the floor –  although some cats become hyperactive instead. 

But is catnip bad for dogs? Or is it perfectly safe for our canine companions? Does it affect them the same way? Read on as we dive into the curious world of catnip and canines.

Can Dogs Have Catnip? 

The good news is that catnip is safe for dogs to eat or smell in small doses. Phew! Now that we got that out of the way, let’s explore catnip for dogs in a little more detail.

Does It Work on Dogs?

Although catnip is safe for dogs, don’t expect it to have the same effects as it has on cats. In fact, we aren’t even sure whether dogs respond to it at all. 

While cats respond in a very obvious way, dogs don’t have such a clear reaction to nepetalactone. Though it’s possible dogs won’t respond to catnip at all, it’s thought that they do, in fact, find it mildly sedative. 

Humans have been taking catnip as a herbal remedy for centuries as a calming aid. In fact, nepetalactone is similar in chemical structure to valerian, which is known to work as a calming agent in dogs. Given that valerian works on dogs, it stands to reason that our canine pals might get the same mild sedative effect that we get from taking catnip. 

While the impact on dogs hasn’t been studied, it’s likely that they get a benefit from both smelling and eating catnip. You might not notice the effects, though – any reaction is likely to be subtle!

Is There Catnip Made for Dogs?

Well, if you were hoping for a stimulant for your dog, catnip is not what you’re looking for. However, anise has been named dog nip for its similar stimulating effects. While we know there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that anise causes hyperactivity in dogs, it’s best to be cautious with the interpretation of this, as anise’s effects on dogs haven’t been well studied.

Are There Benefits of Catnip for Dogs?

Catnip plant

Although catnip and canines aren’t exactly a match made in heaven, let’s have a look at the possible benefits for dogs. It’s important to remember that catnip has not been well studied in dogs, and that all benefits are theoretical.

With the chemical similarity to valerian (which we know dogs respond to) and the fact humans get a calming effect from catnip, it’s possible catnip works as a dog calming aid. It could be used as an anti-anxiety herbal remedy. However, it’s worth mentioning that the effects of catnip on cats are very short-lived, and we just don’t know how long any calming effect will last in most dogs.

There are other benefits sometimes mentioned in articles about catnip and dogs. These include

  • Nutritional benefits (due to magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin E, among others)
  • Gastrointestinal benefits (such as diarrhea relief)
  • Sleeping benefits 
  • Preventing fleas

However, it’s sensible to be cautious with claiming benefits like these. The tiny amount of magnesium and vitamin C in catnip, coupled with the tiny amount of catnip you’ll actually be giving your dog, means it is unlikely to make a dent in your dog’s daily recommended allowance of these micronutrients. 

Because diarrhea has so many causes, it’s unlikely that one herb will help them all — not to mention that catnip will also cause digestive upset in some animals. As one of the possible effects is as a smooth muscle stimulant, it might even make some cases of diarrhea worse. 

There might be some sleeping benefits, thanks to catnip’s mild sedative effect, though it might not work very well. We don’t know how long any relaxing effect works in dogs, but it’s unlikely to be all night.

And finally, there’s no evidence whatsoever that the herb prevents fleas. In fact, cat owners will tell you that cats still get fleas even when they roll in the stuff.

Dangers of Catnip for Dogs

Generally, catnip is considered safe for dogs, especially in the small doses usually recommended to be given as treats. However, there are some dogs that shouldn’t have this herb. 

Pregnant dogs should never be given catnip. It may stimulate smooth muscle and cause uterine contractions and cause preterm labor. This can also be a side effect that impacts pregnant humans, which means it would be sensible for expecting mothers to avoid taking catnip as well.

The herb is a diuretic, so it’s not a good idea to give it to dogs with heart problems or urinary problems, as it might destabilize them. If your dog needs a calming aid with these problems, it’s best to check with your veterinarian for a safer option.

In general, it’s not a good idea to give herbal remedies to any dogs taking medication until you’ve checked with your veterinarian. It’s possible that catnip will make some medications more or less effective, so it’s worth checking that there are no known interactions before giving your dog catnip treats.

Dogs and Catnip: Safety Tips

Dog and cat in kitchen

Here are some things to consider if you have catnip in the house with your dog:

  • Smelling catnip in cat toys is fine, but don’t let dogs access toys if there’s a chance they might rip them up. It’s ok for dogs to eat catnip, but the toy stuffing is a concern for bowel obstruction.
  • It’s best to give your dogs a dog treat with catnip already in it, as it will have a carefully measured dose. However, if you can’t find any and you want to try it, the dried herb is safe to use: a teaspoonful sprinkled over food should be plenty. 
  • If your dog eats a large quantity of catnip, it may cause an upset stomach. Be prepared for diarrhea, and call your vet if they seem too uncomfortable or if you see symptoms you weren’t expecting.
  • Fresh catnip herbs are also safe, but it’s best to prevent dogs from accessing the garden if they’re prone to eating plants, as other plants could be toxic.