Dear Doctor: Catnip Concerns


Q. Is it really okay to give your cat catnip? My husband and I are teetotalers and also would never smoke marijuana, so I’m wondering if it’s okay to make my cat high. He does seem to like it and I don’t want to take away something he enjoys, but am I inadvertently turning him into a drug addict, with attendant harmful effects? Also, is it just plain wrong?

Alexandra Leerink

Canton, Massachusetts

Dear Ms. Leerink,

A. We understand your concern. First, rest assured that catnip is not addictive. Your cat will never crave more and more and will never experience withdrawal symptoms if he goes without having any of the substance.

As for the “just plain wrong” part, some ethicists are indeed skeptical about making a cat “high,” especially when the cat has no control over whether he’s exposed to the mood-altering substance. On the other hand, animal welfare organizations, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), believe high-quality catnip can be part of a cat’s life in reasonable amounts. The American Association of Feline Practitioners also believes it is okay to give a cat catnip, as does the Humane Society of the United States.

The bottom line: you certainly don’t have to give your pet catnip, but if he seems to enjoy it (not all felines respond), you’re not hurting him by providing access here and there. The effect, as you’ve probably already seen, tends to last only about 10 minutes or so.


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