What to Do if Your Cat Becomes Aggressive with Catnip

If your cat reacts aggressively when consuming or smelling catnip, you should give them the time and space they need to calm down from the effects.

Once your cat has calmed down, you can discontinue the use of catnip or try a different kind depending on the severity of their reaction.

Catnip is an herb that can trigger a variety of responses in your cat, which vary from blissful to destructive. Depending on how your cat reacts, you might need to reconsider exposing your kitty to the plant.


How to Handle Your Cat’s Aggressive Response to Catnip

Catnip is well-known among pet owners for being a way for your cat to relax, destress, and enjoy some recreational fun. When ingested or smelled, most cats have a great time, but others might react with aggression instead.

While aggressive behavior isn’t too common, it’s important to take precautions when giving your cat catnip for the first time.

What to Do If Your Cat Reacts Aggressively When Having Catnip

How you choose to approach your cat’s catnip aggression depends on the severity of their response.

If your cat appears to enjoy the catnip and is only mildly irritable, there’s nothing wrong with continuing their exposure to catnip – however, if your cat is reacting more strongly, it might be time to discontinue using it.

If your cat has an aggressive reaction after being exposed to catnip, they might be:

  • Hissing
  • Growling
  • Biting and scratching
  • Attacking things
  • Becoming possessive and defensive over the catnip

When your cat exhibits these symptoms, the best solution is to give them space to let the effects of the catnip wear off, especially if they have their aggression focused on you or another animal.

This typically lasts for roughly 10-15 minutes before the reaction begins to subside.

Once your cat is back to its normal self, you can take two courses of action:

  • Discontinue the use of catnip with your feline completely.
  • Try a different kind of catnip to see if the effects are different.

Whether you choose to discontinue using catnip or try something new, remember that every cat is unique and has a different response to it.


The Types of Aggression Catnip Can Cause in Your Cat

While catnip may be the cause of your cat’s aggression, there are different levels of aggression that can help you decide how to handle the situation.

By understanding the stages of aggression that a cat can go through, you can better assess your cat’s needs.


1 – Playful aggression is one of the most common types of catnip-induced aggression.

If your cat is reacting aggressively to catnip, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re full-on lashing out, growling, and attacking you.

Sometimes your cat might become playfully aggressive, and this response can be heightened after they’ve been exposed to catnip.

If your cat is under 2 years old, they’re more likely to have playful aggression as it’s a normal part of their growth. As they get older, they learn hunting techniques and survival skills, which means your kitten might pounce on you for practice!

Regardless of your cat’s age, it’s not uncommon for your kitty to become playfully aggressive when they are exposed to catnip.

Signs of playful aggression in your cat might include:

•           Pouncing on anything that moves

•           Running and bouncing around

•           Stalking and pacing

•           Scratching and biting

A few of these signs might seem familiar, because they’re associated with a lot of types of aggression. To help you differentiate regular aggression from playful aggression, pay attention to your cat’s body language.

If your cat is exhibiting playful aggression, their attacks will not be full force. This means that your cat’s bites shouldn’t break the skin and their scratches are not intended to hurt you, simply as a means of playing.

Your cat will also be lacking other symptoms of regular aggression, such as:

  • Flattened ears
  • Hissing and growling
  • Rigid, tense, and trembling body movements

Playful aggression between multiple felines is completely normal behavior that allows your kitties to expel all their pent-up energy in a positive way.

If both of your cats are happy to play with one another, this behavior is acceptable, however if one or more of the animals involved becomes upset by the interaction, you may need to safely put a stop to their play fighting to avoid potential injuries.


How to stop any playful aggression your cat does at you

Sometimes, your cat might be directing their aggression at you instead of at another animal. While your cat’s playful aggression might not be intended to hurt you, those bites and scratches can be painful. For this reason, it’s important not to give in to this behavior.

Whether your cat is playfully aggressive with catnip or acts this way normally, it’s important to redirect their aggression in a positive way. One of the leading causes of playful aggression is due to pet owners encouraging this behavior, even if they don’t realize it.

In order to help halt playful aggression, don’t use your hands and feet to play with them. Instead, try helping them divert their aggression by:

  • Offering scheduled playtimes throughout the day
  • Providing plenty of toys, cat scratchers, and other forms of enrichment
  • Adopt a friend for them to play with

If your cat only becomes playfully aggressive when they’ve been exposed to catnip, if you and your animals are comfortable and safe, you can continue giving them the herb at your own discretion.


2 – Cat-on-Cat aggression occurs when two or more cats react aggressively toward one another.

The safest option for you and your cats is to slowly introduce catnip to your household and carefully observe their behaviors separately before you put them together to determine the best course of action.

If you have multiple cats in your household, they may react differently to catnip together than they do apart.

This means that if you give catnip to all the kitties in your residence, it could potentially cause tension between them.

If your cats aren’t very friendly with one another or have a history of being aggressive toward each other already, it’s important to consider that this could cause them to act out when exposed to the effects of catnip.

Cat-on-cat aggression can also occur between your kitties, even if they’re the best of friends normally.

Since catnip triggers responses in your cat’s brain, it’s possible that an adverse reaction could create aggression between multiple kitties that should subside after the effects have worn off.


3 – Aggression due to overstimulation can make your kitty’s catnip experience a bad time.

Even the friendliest cat in the world can be a bit temperamental from time-to-time, and a lot of this can be caused by overstimulation.

Overstimulation occurs when your cat feels overwhelmed by something – particularly if they are being touched, handled, petted improperly or for long periods of time. When this happens, your cat can experience something referred to as “petting-induced aggression.”

When your cat is experiencing the effects of catnip, the receptors in their brains are stimulated. If you proceed to touch or play with your cat during this time, they could potentially become overstimulated by the experience.

When this happens, there’s a possibility that your cat could lash out aggressively.

Luckily, your cat typically exhibits warning signs before they fully react. These might include:

  • Flattening their ears
  • Tense, rigid movements
  • Dilated pupils
  • Pacing
  • Whipping their tail back-and-forth
  • Growling

If your cat begins to throw out these signals, it’s important to give them space and see how they react to catnip without your interaction and experiencing overstimulation.

If they continue to react aggressively in a calm and neutral setting, you may need to discontinue giving them catnip altogether.


4 – If your cat feels threatened by something after being exposed to catnip, they may experience redirected aggression.

When catnip triggers receptors in your cat’s brain, this can cause them to go into a frenzy of emotions. When this happens, your cat’s senses are heightened, and they can experience feelings such as:

  • Excitement
  • Relaxation
  • Spontaneity
  • Blissfulness
  • Agitation

Since your cat is particularly sensitive when they’re experiencing the effects of catnip, this means that they may react more strongly to certain things – such as a loud noise or a neighbor’s dog walking by outside.

This can cause your cat to act out aggressively as a form of redirected aggression, since they can’t directly react to the source of their feelings.

If your cat is reacting aggressively to something unrelated to their catnip experience, there’s a chance that they could feel differently during a future try at ingesting or smelling the herb.

Try offering it to them in an isolated area where they won’t feel threatened by anything to see how they truly react.


5 – If your cat is reacting aggressively to catnip, it could be rooted in fear.

Most cat aggression stems from fear, as it’s the most common reaction for a scared kitty.

Cats can be fearful of many things, primarily if they have had negative, minimal, or no interaction with the source of their fear in the past.

Common reasons your cat might be fearful are:

  • Your cat has a naturally shy personality, making them predisposed to feeling defensive and possibly aggressive when they get nervous or scared about something.
  • Your cat has had a bad experience regarding people, other animals, places, sounds, or other things in their lives. If they’re exposed to these things again, they might associate their previous experiences with the present and lash out aggressively.
  • Your cat might not have had proper socialization and could be more sensitive to certain interactions, especially with people and other animals.

If your cat is scared, offering them catnip can help them to calm down, or it could heighten those aggressive responses. This is especially true if something triggers your cat’s aggressive side while they’re being exposed to catnip.

Common triggers of cat aggression include:

  • A person or animal moving too quickly or unexpectedly
  • Being touched or handled improperly or in a way that your cat doesn’t like
  • Being exposed to a situation that triggers a bad memory

By identifying what triggers your cat’s fearful aggression, you can work toward helping them through their fear, especially when they have catnip by:

  • Reducing potential stressors
  • Removing possible triggers
  • Providing your cat with more playtime and enrichment
  • Providing plenty of spaces where your cat can retreat to if needed
  • Implementing gentle training protocols such as with treats or a clicker
  • Consulting your vet for more remedies such as medications, supplements, or other behavioral help if their fear is persistent

Depending on the type of aggression your cat is displaying, you can then decide what course of action you want to take when it comes to giving your pet catnip.

If their aggression is harmful to you or other animals, you should discontinue the use of catnip immediately.

If their aggression is playful, mild, manageable, or could potentially be due to an outside cause, you can continue trying to offer catnip to your cat and see how they react during future experiences.


How Catnip Can Trigger Aggression in Your Cat

If you’re wondering about why your cat is reacting aggressively to catnip, then you need to first understand how catnip affects your kitty’s brain and body.

Catnip works when your cat consumes or smells it. Nepetalactone is one of several oils in the plant, which is what stimulates your cat’s response. This is because the oil connects to your cat’s nasal tissue, which then sends signals to the brain.

When your cat eats catnip, they may feel especially tired, but when your cat sniffs the plant, they’re typically prone to hyperactivity, which may include:

  • Purring
  • Rubbing up against things
  • Frequent vocalization
  • Rolling around

According to the Humane Society of the United States, “Researchers suspect that catnip targets feline “happy” receptors in the brain.”

So why might your kitty react aggressively instead?

Since catnip creates a different response in every cat, the way that the oils in the plant interact with the receptors in your cat’s brain determines how they act and feel. In fact, some cats don’t even respond at all.

An estimated 30% of felines won’t have any reaction to catnip. Kittens under the age of 6 months will have no response whatsoever, so it’s best to test it out once your cat is older.

No matter how your cat reacts, catnip is completely harmless when given in moderation. However, if your cat ingests a large quantity all at once, they might be prone to vomiting and diarrhea until the plant is out of their system. 

At the end of the day, giving your kitty catnip can be an interesting experience. Make sure you take the necessary precautions and observe your cat’s behavior when they’re exposed to catnip before letting them go wild with it!


Writer: Audrey

Read about Audrey