Catnip, an herb in the mint family, contains a compound called nepetalactone which has a stimulating effect on cats and causes them to act high. It does not have this effect on dogs. According to Nancy Lowry, professor of chemistry at Hamshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, dogs have no reaction to catnip, and neither do 15 to 30 percent of cats and basically all other species. There are some potential uses of catnip for dogs; however the available research on these uses, specifically for dogs, is slim.
Never give your dog any product or compound, orally or topically, without consulting your veterinarian first.
The Calming Effect
Catnip has been used as a sedative for humans for centuries. It is used in herbal teas and has calming properties that have been compared to those of chamomile. Some herbalists have suggested mixing catnip tea into a dog's food to calm him.
A Digestive Aid
Catnip tea also has been said to provide mild digestive benefits to humans. It has a mild anti-spasmodic effect that may reduce cramps and relieve gas and indigestion. However, Lowry points out that there are no studies supporting the long-held belief about digestive benefits.
An Antiseptic Agent
Another compound found in catnip, called thymol, has both antiseptic and fungicidal properties. Catnip has been used for both of these purposes by humans, but there is no available research about using catnip on dogs as an antiseptic and fungicide.
A Mosquito Repellent
The nepetalactone found in catnip is also a great mosquito repellent for humans when in concentrated form. According to the Humane Society of America, it is 10 times stronger than DEET, or diethyltoluamid. Catnip also contains citronellal, citral, carvacrol and pulegone, all of which repel insects too. No research is available for this use on dogs, however.
The above suggested uses of catnip are for humans. There is not adequate, available research on these uses of catnip for dogs. Consult your veterinarian for advice if you are considering using catnip in any capacity for your dog.
Dr. Debra Primovic, a consulting veterinarian for Pet Place, says that while catnip is harmless when ingested, it can cause some pets to vomit if they eat too much. Primovic also points out that if a dog eats a catnip toy, the toy could get stuck in his stomach or intestines causing another type of gastrointestinal problem.
Laura Payne has been freelance writing for several online publications in her free time since 2006. She holds a Master of Arts in linguistics from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Oakland University. Payne teaches linguistics classes at both universities on an adjunct basis.