Can Pet Rats Have Catnip? Is It Safe?

Can Pet Rats Have Catnip Is It Safe
Can Pet Rats Have Catnip Is It Safe

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a natural substance that cat owners give to their pets to stimulate excitement and playfulness. Through the years, the substance has developed a reputation as a generally safe supplement to give small pets to make them more active rambunctious, yet catnip is not a substance that should be given to certain types of pets. With this in mind, pet rats are known for playful activity, so could catnip be given to rats in small amounts?

Can pet rats have catnip, and is it safe? When given to pet rats, catnip acts as a stimulant to a rat’s sensory perceptions. Catnip is known to be a repellent substance to rats in the wild; therefore, it is not recommended for use in pet rats due to its strong smell and increase of rat stimulation, which could cause adverse health effects.  

For new pet rat owners, it is common to think that substances given to other pets will be okay for rats as well. Although this is a common mistake, a substance like catnip should only be given to cats, as its name suggests. This guide will explore the effects that catnip has on pet rats as well as its overall safety to rats. Read on to find out more. 


What Effects Does Catnip Have on Pet Rats?

When given to pet rats, catnip will have most of the effects as seen with cats, with a few more effects that have been recently discovered. Before we can delve into how this substance affects rats, some context on what catnip is and what effects it has on small mammals is needed. 

What Is Catnip? What Are Its Effects?

Catnip derives from plants that are categorized in the mint family. Originally from Europe, the plant is now found all over the world, and its original use was founded as a pest repellent due to its strong and potent odor. In recent decades, the plant was found to be a powerful stimulant and a possible hallucinogen to small animals. Catnip has strong effects on the central nervous system of mammals, with particular effects more pronounced in cats. 

When administered to cats or other small mammals, catnip causes pronounced euphoria and physical stimulation in the animal. The effects typically last for upwards of 10 minutes, yet this can be longer depending on the amount administered. Catnip has long been used to repel wild rats, where skin irritation and heart palpitations have been discovered as possible side effects in rodents. 

In terms of catnip and pet rats, the same side effects are as true as those for wild rats. The following effects are the most reported when catnip is administered to rats.

Increased Stimulation

Catnip, when given to rats, causes a rapid increase in motor functions as well as slight euphoria. It is tantamount to administering a drug when given to small animals, with pet rats being no exception. Catnip acts as a mild amphetamine in rats, where rapid movement and an increase in heart function have been recorded. A pet rat will typically spin in circles and likely climb erratically around their cage when under the substance’s effects. 

Heightened Sexual Arousal

A particularly alarming phenomenon with catnip and male rats is the rapid and prominent increase in sexual stimulation. Although this effect may seem appealing in terms of breeding procedures, the effect is drug-induced and can last for abnormally long periods of time. This effect can have adverse reactions to a rat’s circulatory system. 

Catnip Is a Rodent Repellent

Generally speaking, rats do not like catnip. The substance has long been used as a rat repellent against wild rats, and this aversion has carried over throughout successive generations. Catnip has a strong and unpleasant odor to rats, and most laboratory experiments have had to place the substance in regular rat food for digestion. 

Will Catnip Harm Pet Rats?

So, catnip is known to be unattractive to rats, but will the substance actually harm them? Rats are smaller in size when compared to cats; therefore, catnip will have more pronounced side effects in pet rats when compared to cats. A rapid increase in heart rate is known to occur as well as increased susceptibility to seizures. This is likely due to the over-stimulation of the central nervous system. 

Additionally, catnip can produce a sedative-like effect in rats as it acts as a mild anti-depressant after the increased stimulation has effectively worn off. Rats will typically sleep for longer periods of time, including during the normally active nighttime hours. Pet rats should never be sedated since they spend a large amount of their time in cages. 

Continuous dosings with large amounts of catnip could potentially lead to shock and even death. Although these effects may not seem damaging in the short term, continued use will certainly harm pet rats. 

Are Small Doses of Catnip Okay for Pet Rats?

Side effects can be expected to occur when giving catnip to a pet rat. All drugs, both natural and chemical, have possible side effects, yet there is no apparent benefit seen in giving catnip to a pet rat. With this in mind, a tiny dose one time will likely not produce undue harm, yet it is not recommended due to abnormal behaviors the substance produces in a rat. 

This substance is usually meant to be used for cats. These animals are naturally-programmed to respond to catnip in a natural way. With pet rats, there is way too much confusion and aversion to the substance to see any real benefit for its administration. Pet rats are already playful and inquisitive animals; there is no need to increase drug-induced stimulation in a pet rat. For the overall safety of a pet rat, this substance should be avoided. 

Even though death is not something that is guaranteed to occur if catnip is given to a pet rat, why give them something that causes potentially adverse health effects?

The Bottom Line: Catnip Is Not Recommended for Pet Rats 

Catnip is a substance that should only be given to the animal that shares its name. Cats respond well to catnip in moderate and infrequent dosages, and the animals will even seek the plant out when roaming in the wild. In terms of a pet rat, catnip is not a substance that comes naturally to these pets. Years and years of usage as a rat repellent have likely caused the substance to become unattractive to them. 

Even though all will likely be well if you give a pet rat catnip, there is a very strong possibility the substance will make the pet rat very sick. Seizures, rapid heart rate, and other side effects have been known to occur with catnip and rats. All a rat needs are attention and activities within their cage to be playful and happy. Catnip is completely unnecessary for pet rats.


Catnip produces abnormal reactions when given to pet rats. Some of the most severe include:

  • Pronounced overactivity and fatigue
  • Sedation due to anti-depressant qualities
  • Heart problems

Catnip is, in many ways, a drug; although it occurs naturally in nature, it produces mind-altering effects in small animals. Rats are much smaller in size than cats, which means the effects will be more pronounced if given to a pet rat. This plant is meant to be used for possible medicinal purposes with human ingestion and as a natural stimulant for cats. Pet rats are perfectly content without the need for catnip.