Catnip makes some cats feel euphoric, playful, or mellow. Dog owners want their pups to feel just as happy as their felines, so that raises the question: Is there a catnip equivalent for dogs? There is not an exact substance like catnip for dogs, but there is something similar. Anise is a spice with a strong scent that can stimulate some dogs. Aniseed may be used to train scent dogs, as a natural remedy, or as a fun and stimulating treat for dogs.
What is Anise?
Aniseed, also called common anise, is a seed from the Pimpinella anisum plant that is related to caraway, cumin, dill, and fennel. Used in many foods and drinks, this spice has a sweet, herbal fragrance and flavor that resembles licorice. Note that aniseed is different from star anise, a fruit from the magnolia family that has a similar but more potent scent and taste.
Aniseed is used in canine nose work training along with other scents, such as birch and clove. These strong fragrances are very unique from one another, which enables trainers to teach certain working dogs to follow trails and search for specific things.
Anise is sometimes called "catnip for dogs" because it causes some dogs to become excited and playful. However, it is completely unrelated to the catnip plant.
Aniseed can be used ground or whole but is also available in essential oil form.
How Does Anise Affect Dogs?
Aniseed has a strong and unique scent that is easily detected by dogs due to their advanced olfactory systems. In some dogs, it has a stimulating effect that may cause them to become playful and even hyperactive. While catnip causes some cats to become playful, it makes others mellow and sleepy. Unlike catnip, anise tends to make dogs excited and hyper, not mellow or sleepy. Like cats with catnip, many dogs are attracted to the scent of anise and will become excited by it.
The effects of aniseed vary from dog to dog. Some dogs will show little to no interest while others may actually dislike the scent. Many dogs, however will become very excited and motivated to work or play after smelling anise. The effects may last a few hours, and the dog may seem sleepy after the burst of energy.
Aniseed is also sometimes used as an herbal remedy in humans and dogs to treat pain, skin problems, and digestive issues. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian before using anise on your dog, especially if it is being used as a natural remedy. Too much anise can be harmful to dogs.
How to Use Anise for Dogs
Anise should be used in moderation in dogs. Only a small amount of aniseed is needed for effect because of the strong aroma. Too much aniseed can be harmful, and lead to vomiting and diarrhea. It's best to start with the tiniest amount possible so you can see how it affects your dog.
Be prepared for a burst of energy after offering aniseed to your dog, especially if you have a dog that is already very energetic. Plan to engage in play or exercise for an hour or two after your dog has tried aniseed. This is not something you want to try at bedtime.
Whole or Ground Aniseed
It's easy to use ground or whole aniseed for dogs. Crushing the seeds can help release the aroma, and only a few seeds are needed. You can fill a sachet or dog toy with a small amount of ground or whole aniseed and give it to your dog for play. Sprinkle a pinch of ground aniseed on food or treats for a special aroma and flavor boost.
Aniseed Essential Oil
Aniseed essential oil is very concentrated and should not be put directly on the skin or ingested at full strength. Try dabbing a drop on a dog toy and offering it to your dog. You can put a drop on your dog's collar, harness, or bedding to introduce the aroma.
Remember to use aniseed in moderation; you only need a tiny amount to elicit a response in dogs. Talk to your veterinarian if you are not sure how much to use or how to use it properly. If your dog experiences undesired effects from aniseed, stop using it and contact your veterinarian immediately.
Lazarowski, Lucia, et al. “Methodological Considerations in Canine Olfactory Detection Research.” Frontiers in Veterinary Science, vol. 7, 2020, p. 408.
Wynn, Susan G., and Barbara J. Fougère. “Veterinary Herbal Medicine: A Systems-Based Approach.” Veterinary Herbal Medicine, Elsevier, 2007, pp. 291–409.