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Is Giving Catnip to a Kitten Like Giving Marijuana to A Teenager? Irreverent Vet

Some of the questions I’ve been asked over the years still absolutely amaze me. When you treat as many animals as I have, you learn that some questions are very common. Then there are those that, while they aren’t asked as frequently, really stand out.

Before I go any further, let me introduce myself for those of you that don’t know me. I’m the Irreverent Veterinarian and I give you my honest opinion of issues in the animal care world. Some might say that I’m honest to a fault. I speak my mind and I won’t sweet-talk you or sugarcoat the truth. I tell it like it is – to you, the drug companies, the pet product manufacturers, professional breeders and pet owners. Some of what I say can be controversial, but that doesn’t stop me-it can be hard to hear the truth. This question made me start some research.

My client Julie came in with her new kitten for a checkup. While I was looking over the new addition to her family she said “Doc, my other cat loves catnip but I don’t want to give it to the kitten. I’ve heard it’s just like giving marijuana to a teenager?”

Wow. Well, I’ve never heard it put that way before. I really had to think about it for a minute.

Considering that most people don’t know how catnip works, her question wasn’t out of line. There are lots of questions that arise: Does it change the brain structure of the kitten? Does it cause later behavioral problems or training issues? Is it better to wait until your cat is an adult, or to simply not offer it to cats at all?

Before I explain, I want to know: what do you think? Take our poll and tell me about your stance on kittens and catnip.

Catnip is enticing to cats because of its active ingredient, an oil called nepetalactone. When inhaled this oil can affect a cat’s behavior, coordination, and presumably their mood as well. Although many people have compared the effects to substances used as drugs by humans, it’s impossible to determine exactly what it does to cats….and catnip has no effect on humans.

My research on the subject lead me to find that despite catnip’s overwhelming popularity, almost no studies have looked at its effect on kitten brains and behavior. This is likely due to the fact that most cats don’t begin reacting to catnip until between 3 to 6 months of age. Kittens younger than this typically show little to no reaction to catnip. It’s hard to study what’s not there!

My Final Thoughts on Is Giving Catnip to a Kitten Like Giving Marijuana to A Teenager?

Can you give a kitten catnip? I’ve known many owners who have. But should you? Well, probably not, although not for the reason you might think.

No studies have shown that catnip is harmful to kittens, and I’ve never known a kitten to show signs of “brain damage” or other detrimental effects after exposure to it. But it’s best not to give it to your cat simply because it’s a waste of money if your cat can’t enjoy it. Chances are that any catnip given to a kitten 6 months or younger won’t have much of an effect on them. Save your dollars and give them a quality catnip when they’re older and can appreciate it.

One last thing: both cats and kittens may eat catnip from time to time. In small amounts this is perfectly safe but larger quantities can cause vomiting and upset stomach. Don’t let your cat eat fresh or dry catnip and always keep it safely stored.


The Irreverent Vet is a columnist that regularly contributes to The goal is to add a balanced and alternative view of some controversial pet issues. As happens with all of us, veterinarians can’t always say what they really think without offending some clients. This commentary allows vets to say what they think and give you, the pet owner, the opportunity to consider another point of view. All opinions are those of the Irreverent Vet and not the views of and are not endorsed by