cat playing with catnip toy on grass

What Does Catnip Do to Cats?


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If you’ve ever seen a cat rolling around in euphoria after sniffing some catnip you’ve probably asked yourself the question “what does catnip do to cats that makes them love it so much?”

Or maybe you’ve noticed that one or more of your cats loves it, while others couldn’t care less. What gives?

Read on to find all about what makes catnip so magical to (some) cats.

What is catnip?

Catnip is a plant from the mint family. It’s official name is Nepeta cataria, which is derived from the Latin word for cat.

You can buy it in various forms, including:

If you’ve ever seen a cat get hold of the catnip, you’ll know that some of them looooove it. So what exactly does catnip do? And why do cats enjoy it so much?

What exactly does catnip do?

To understand what catnip does to cats, you first need to know how it works.

The active ingredient in catnip is nepetalactone, which is a chemical found in the oils of catnip’s leaves, seeds, and stems. This chemical is what alters cats’ behaviour. And while we’re discussing it, find out why cat behaviour is quirky all the time – not just when the catnip is out.

When the nepetalactone enters a cat’s nose, it binds to receptors which activate the areas of the cat’s brain responsible for emotion and behaviour. This, in turn, activates different areas of the brain that control emotion and behaviour.

And they don’t need a lot either – a couple of sniffs will likely have your kitty acting cuckoo.

It’s worth nothing that not every cat will respond to catnip. In fact, around one third won’t. Whether they’re susceptible to its powers depends on their genetics – and kittens won’t be affected until they’re around 3-6 months old.

ginger and white cat sniffing catnip plant

What does catnip do to cats’ behaviour?

If your cat is susceptible to catnip, once they’ve had a sniff of it, their behaviour will change. Normally quite noticeably, too!

Usually, your cat will have one of two reactions: a lovey-dovey, calm kitty who just wants to cuddle and relax is one common reaction. The other is over the top with, aggressive playfulness and zoomies. That’s when the rolling on their backs, headbutting, purring, and leaping around kicks in.  

Check out this video for some super cute reactions. Seriously, they could brighten anyone’s day. Need more kitty content in your life? Who doesn’t. Follow our five favourite cats of Instagram accounts too.

Whichever reaction your cat has, it’ll probably last for around 10-20 minutes. The stronger the concentration of nepetalactone, the more obvious the reaction will be. After it’s faded, put the catnip away for a bit. Your cat won’t respond to it again for an hour or two.

And here’s a fun fact: did you know that it isn’t just domestic cats who react to this minty herb? Lions, tigers and other big cats are equally as enamoured with it.

Can a cat have too much catnip?

It’s highly unlikely that your cat will overdose on their favourite herb. It’s not addictive, and isn’t a toxin. Most cats are also very good at regulating themselves, and will only sniff or eat as much as they want.

However, there is a chance that your cat might feel nauseous, have diarrhea or vomiting, or become over stimulated. If that does happen, simply take the catnip away and they will recover quickly enough.

What can you use catnip for?

Because cats literally go crazy for catnip, it can be used as a positive reinforcement tool. You can use it to entice your kitty to sleep in a bed or play with a certain toy, for instance. Some people even use it to calm their cats ahead of stressful situations like vet visits.

Or, think of it like the human version of indulging in a chocolate bar or blissful bath. Just use it to give your kitty a good boost of endorphins. There’s nothing wrong with some feel-good treats from time to time, right? Here are 10 other ways to pamper your cat.

Perhaps you could even rub catnip on yourself when your cat was being aloof? Sounds like a surefire way to get some cuddles and love to us…

Pet insurance for a calmer pet parent

Catnip might calm kitty before a vet visit, but you know what calms the pet parent? And the vet? Having a pet insurance policy, so you don’t spend the entire time stressing about the size of the vet bill versus the need for your cat to get the right care.

Plus, if you buy your pet insurance online with PD Insurance, you get your first month free (at the time of writing). How’s that for good endorphins?

Over to you

How does your cat react to catnip? Are they one of the susceptible ones and if so, are they the calm or crazy type? Let us know by sharing a video on Facebook.

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