Is Catnip for Dogs Safe? A Vet Explains the Herb's Effects
Catnip, an herb in the mint family, is notorious for its impact on our feline friends. Some cats on catnip have a range of reactions, ranging from completely loopy, to slightly agitated, to totally mellow. But what happens if your dog sneaks into the cat toy box? Is catnip bad for dogs?
The good news: The plant shouldn't bother your pup unless they gobble down a lot of it. The even better news: In some situations, it might even help them. Let's take a closer look at catnip for dogs.
Is Catnip Safe for Dogs?
Generally, yes. Tina Wismer, DVM, MS, DABVT, is the senior director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. She says both fresh and dried versions of catnip are considered safe for dogs.
That said, if your dog chows down on a catnip plant, its essential oils might cause him to feel icky. "Plant material always has a small risk of causing stomach upset in pets," she says. But there's no real need to be concerned about a catnip plant growing in your garden. These perennials aren't really something your dog will be attracted to, and it's unlikely he'll eat a lot and get sick.
What Does Catnip Do for Dogs?
Catnip contains a compound called nepetalactone. Wismer says approximately 50–80 percent of cats over 12 weeks old are genetically inclined to react to it.
"This compound binds to the vomeronasal organ of the cat, which is located in the back of their nose," she says. "It's normally associated with pheromones. The compound is similar to a female cat being in heat, and the cats' 'high' on catnip exhibit those types of behaviors—and both male and female cats display these behaviors."
Cats aren't the only ones with vomeronasal organs. Dogs have them, too, as well as more than 100 million scent receptors. But catnip doesn't affect them like it does felines. "Since dogs don't respond the same way to these pheromones, many have no response or may experience some mild sedation at most," Wismer says.
Should You Give Catnip to Your Dog?
Interestingly, the sedative effect is one reason why some veterinarians recommend catnip for dogs. In holistic veterinary care, herbal medicines are an alternative that might be an effective form of treatment for some pups' conditions or behavior.
A little catnip might be OK for dogs from time to time. It contains vitamins A and E, as well as magnesium, which some preliminary animal studies suggest has a calming effect in the brain.
When paired with positive reinforcement training, catnip could help if your pooch:
So how do you give catnip to dogs? "Typically, it's sprinkled over their food or given in capsules. It's usually just given once before the ride or stressful situation," Wismer says. If they're going to respond to it (and not all dogs do), they don't require much: Animal Care Clinic recommends approximately 1/2 teaspoon.
If your pupper needs a little help sometimes to mellow out, talk with your vet first. In addition to dog catnip, they might also recommend a dog pheromone product such as Adaptil, a supplement like Rescue Remedy, or other anti-anxiety products.