What Is Catnip And How Does It Work?

Jan 4, 2024 | Cats & Kittens | 1 comment

Catnip, scientifically known as Nepeta cataria, is a herb beloved by many cat owners. Native to Europe and Asia, it’s now grown worldwide. This mint family member emits a unique aroma that captivates cats.

Cats encountering catnip often exhibit entertaining behaviors like rolling, rubbing, purring, and playful bursts. Not all cats are affected, as sensitivity to nepetalactone is hereditary; some may not respond.

How Does Catnip Work?

The secret behind catnip’s enchantment lies in its chemical composition. Catnip contains nepetalactone, which triggers a euphoric reaction in susceptible cats. When cats come into contact with catnip, whether by sniffing, licking, or even rubbing against it, they often exhibit playful behaviors.

Nepetalactone is a volatile compound in the catnip plant’s leaves, stems, and seeds. When these plant parts are crushed or disturbed, they release nepetalactone into the air, creating an irresistible aromatic experience for cats.

This compound interacts with a cat’s olfactory receptors, specifically those related to pheromones and sexual behavior. The response to nepetalactone is often one of excitement and playfulness.

Not all cats are affected by catnip, as the sensitivity to nepetalactone is inherited. Around 50-70% of cats are estimated to carry the gene that makes them susceptible to the effects of catnip.

Kittens and elderly cats are less likely to respond, with the sensitivity usually emerging around three to six months.

Is Catnip Safe?

For the majority of cats, catnip is a harmless and enjoyable indulgence. Here are a few key points to consider about catnip’s safety for your feline companion:

  • Natural and non-toxic: Catnip is a natural herb and is non-toxic to cats. It’s a safe way to provide mental and physical stimulation for your pet.
  • Short-lived effects: The effects of catnip are temporary and typically last for about 10 to 15 minutes. The results will wear off quickly, even if your cat gets overly excited.
  • Non-addictive: Catnip is not addictive for cats. After the initial excitement, cats will return to their normal state without any lasting changes in behavior.
  • Variability: Cats’ reactions to catnip can vary widely. Some may become playful and active, while others may become calmer and relaxed. It’s essential to observe how your specific cat responds to catnip.
  • Safe for kittens and seniors: While kittens might not show much interest in catnip until they’re a few months old, and elderly cats might become less responsive, catnip is generally safe for cats of all ages.
  • No long-term health risks: No known long-term health risks are associated with occasional catnip exposure. However, moderation is vital to preventing overstimulation.

Remember, as with any treat or toy, moderation is essential. Offering catnip occasionally, once or twice a week, will keep your cat’s experience fresh and exciting.

How to Use Catnip?

To use catnip with your cat, you can offer it in various forms, such as dried leaves. Sprinkle a small amount on a scratching post or play area or place it inside a cat toy.

Observe your cat’s reaction, but remember to use it in moderation to prevent overstimulation or diminished effects. Experiment with different catnip products to see what your cat prefers, and enjoy watching their playful and entertaining responses.


A Catnip Overdose?

While catnip is generally safe and enjoyable, it’s essential to exercise caution and prevent your furry friend from indulging excessively. Here are four critical points to know about the possibility of a catnip overdose:

Diminished Effects

Offering catnip too frequently can lead to diminished effects over time. If exposed too often, cats might become less responsive or utterly immune to its allure.

Potential Overstimulation

Like anything enjoyable, too much of a good thing can be counterproductive. Excessive catnip can overstimulate your cat, causing restlessness, hyperactivity, or aggressive behavior.

Digestive Discomfort

In some cases, an overdose of catnip might lead to digestive discomfort. Cats might vomit or experience an upset stomach if they consume a large quantity of catnip.

Temporary Behavioral Changes

While the effects of catnip are temporary, a catnip overdose might lead to quick behavioral changes that are not typical for your cat. This could include extreme hyperactivity or lethargy.

By being mindful of your cat’s reactions and practicing moderation, you can provide a safe and enjoyable catnip experience that adds a touch of excitement to their day without crossing the line into an overdose scenario.


Catnip, the best natural toy for cats, brings joy and fun into their lives. For the cat owner, watching the antics of their furry companion during a catnip session is enjoyable and entertaining.


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Can kittens enjoy catnip, too?

Most kittens won’t respond to catnip until they’re six months old.

Is it possible for a cat to be immune to catnip?

A small percentage of cats show no interest in catnip due to genetics.

Can indoor cats benefit from catnip?

Absolutely! Indoor cats can experience the same playfulness and mental stimulation from catnip as outdoor cats.

Can catnip help calm an anxious cat?

While catnip induces excitement, some cats might have a calming response.

Can I grow catnip at home?

Definitely! Catnip is relatively easy to grow in your garden or even in pots indoors.

Are there other herbs that affect cats similarly?

Valerian root and silver vine have similar effects to catnip and can be enjoyed by cats.


1 Comment

  1. sasha

    It is very interesting to learn about the effects of catnip

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