What Does Catnip Do to Cats and How It Affects Their Behavior

Updated on:
Some articles include affiliate links, and we may receive compensation when you make a purchase through these links.

Ever wondered why your cat suddenly turns into an acrobat after encountering a sprig of catnip? What does catnip do to cats? Simply put, catnip triggers a whirlwind of behaviors in cats, from euphoric rolling and spirited playfulness to serene relaxation.

Within this article, we’ll unravel the science of how catnip affects cats and precisely what to expect when introducing your furry friend to this fascinating plant.

Exploring the Catnip Craze: A Feline Phenomenon

Step into any pet store, and you’re bound to find aisles dedicated to catnip products. From toys to treats, this herb, scientifically known as Nepeta cataria, has become a favorite among our feline friends.

But what is it about this member of the mint family that sends most cats into a state of euphoria? The secret lies in a chemical compound called nepetalactone.

When cats smell catnip, nepetalactone enters their nasal tissue and triggers a response in their brain, similar to a ‘sexual response,’ leading to a cascade of behaviors ranging from:

  • rolling
  • flipping
  • rubbing
  • zoning out

But catnip doesn’t just affect cats’ brains; it also does a number on their bodies. Some cats might become super playful, running all over the place, while others might simply chill out. A few might even drool or munch on the catnip.

Interestingly, the catnip-induced high typically lasts for about 10-15 minutes before the cat loses interest and requires a break before reacting to catnip again. You might wonder, what initiates this sensational reaction, and how long does it persist?

What Does Catnip Do to Cats

The Science Behind the Sensation

You might be wondering, what role does nepetalactone, the critical component in catnip, play in triggering our furry friends’ ecstatic responses? Here’s the intriguing aspect.

This compound gets into a cat’s nose and binds to protein receptors that stimulate the sensory neurons, leading to a release of mood-enhancing chemicals in the cat’s brain.

Interestingly, the way nepetalactone interacts with a cat’s brain is similar to how feline sex hormones do, which explains why cats react so strongly to catnip.

However, not all cats react the same way to catnip. While some may become hyperactive and playful, others may become calm and mellow.

This wide range of responses to catnip, combined with its safe and non-addictive nature, makes it a popular choice for cat toys and treats.

Duration of Delight

Just like a fireworks show, the catnip effect is short-lived but intense. Most cats experience a high for about 10 minutes, after which they need a break of approximately 30 minutes to an hour before they can respond to catnip again. This duration can vary depending on several factors, including the cat’s sensitivity to catnip, its age, and its genetics.

This implies that although you might spark your feline friend’s excitement with a catnip toy for a short while, it would be prudent to allow them a break and reserve the remaining fun for later. After all, we want this to be a positive experience for our cats, don’t we?

What Does Catnip Do to Cats?

So, what does a catnip-induced high exactly entail? Well, it can vary quite a bit from cat to cat. Some cats may:

  • roll around
  • flip
  • rub against things
  • become very relaxed or even spaced out
  • become hyperactive, running all over the place and playing with renewed energy.

Others may become more affectionate, rubbing against people and purring more than usual. But no matter how your cat reacts to catnip, remember that it’s a completely natural and non-addictive herb. It’s a safe way to stimulate your cat’s senses and provide them with a bit of extra fun.

However, as with everything, it should be used in moderation.

What Does Catnip Do to Cats and How It Affects Their Behavior 1

The Allure of Nepeta Cataria: Why Cats Can't Resist

Nepeta cataria, more commonly known as catnip, is like a feline magnet. Its allure lies not just in the response it induces, but also in its irresistible aroma, which is remarkably similar to feline pheromones.

When cats smell catnip, their olfactory receptors are activated, making them react as if they were responding to real pheromones. This is why even just a whiff of catnip can turn a lazy kitty into a playful predator in seconds. Interestingly, some cats eat catnip, which can also induce a similar response.

However, bear in mind that catnip doesn’t affect all cats. In fact, research shows that the sensitivity to catnip is inherited, with about 50-70 percent of cats showing a positive response. This sensitivity varies widely among individual cats, and is driven by factors such as genetics and age, which we will explore in the following subsections.

Genetic Predisposition

Just like we humans have our unique preferences, cats too have their individual likes and dislikes. When it comes to catnip, around 70% of cats are genetically predisposed to react to it. This gene is inherited, which means if one parent has the catnip sensitive gene, the kitten has a 50% chance of inheriting it. If both parents are sensitive to catnip, the odds go up to 75%.

Interestingly, this genetic predisposition does not seem to be linked to any specific cat breed. In other words, your tabby is just as likely to enjoy catnip as your neighbor’s Siamese. But what about the size factor? Do large cats, such as lions and tigers, also take pleasure in catnip?

From Kittens to Lions

Believe it or not, the allure of catnip isn’t limited to our domestic feline friends. Members of the big cat family, including lions and tigers, also react to catnip in a similar way. So, whether it’s a tiny kitten or a majestic lion, catnip seems to hold a universal appeal for the feline family.

However, it’s worth noting that:

  • Kittens under six months old may not react to catnip
  • Some senior cats may not react to catnip
  • The response to catnip is developmentally regulated and tends to emerge at around three to six months of age
What Does Catnip Do to Cats and How It Affects Their Behavior 2

Catnip's Varied Forms and Uses

One of the remarkable aspects of the catnip plant is its versatility. It comes in various forms, including:

  • Fresh leaves
  • Dried herb
  • Oil
  • Spray
  • Toys
  • Treats

Each form has its benefits and uses, depending on your cat’s preferences and your intended use. Whether you want to give your furry friend a treat, engage them in a play session, or help them relax, there’s a catnip product for every occasion.

The two prevalent forms of catnip are fresh and dried, each with a plethora of uses. Fresh catnip leaves can be rubbed on scratching posts or cat beds, while dried catnip can be sprinkled in cat toys or used as a training aid. But which form is superior, fresh or dried? Let’s discover.

Fresh vs. Dried: A Comparison

When it comes to potency, fresh catnip takes the cake. It’s stronger and can provide a more intense experience for your cat. However, dried catnip is more convenient and has a longer shelf life, making it a popular choice for many cat owners.

Both forms can be used in a variety of ways, from stuffing in toys to sprinkling on scratching posts. The choice between fresh and dried ultimately depends on your cat’s preferences and your storage capabilities. If you’re unsure, why not try both and see which one your cat prefers?

Toys and Treats: Catnip-Infused Products

From toys to treats, there’s a wide variety of catnip-infused products available on the market, including catnip balls and catnip toys. These products are designed to provide a sensory-packed experience that cats find stimulating and enjoyable.

Among the top picks for catnip-infused toys are Yeowww My Cats Balls, Mad Cat Cactus Kicker, and Potaroma Electric Flopping, all of which are sure to keep your kitty entertained for hours.

The potency and freshness of the catnip used in these products can vary, so it’s important to choose products from reputable brands. Also, keep in mind the safety of the toys, ensuring they don’t have any small parts that your cat could swallow.

What Does Catnip Do to Cats and How It Affects Their Behavior 3

Integrating Catnip into Your Cat's Routine

Whether it’s for playtime, training, or just a treat, catnip can be a beneficial addition to your cat’s routine. Regularly giving your cat catnip can help keep them mentally stimulated, reduce stress, and even help with pain relief. But how can you incorporate catnip into your cat’s routine in a way that’s beneficial and not overwhelming?

The key lies in moderation. As with many things, an excess of something beneficial can result in adverse effects. It’s best to use catnip as a special treat or reward, rather than a daily indulgence. This will keep the experience exciting and novel for your cat, and prevent them from becoming desensitized to it.

Training with Catnip

Catnip can be a valuable tool in your cat training arsenal. Its appealing scent can attract cats to certain areas or objects, making it great for training your cat to use a scratching post or a new bed. You can also use catnip as a reward during training sessions. For instance, if your cat uses the scratching post instead of the sofa, reward them with a catnip toy.

Remember, every cat is unique and what works for one might not work for another. So, if you find that your cat isn’t responding to catnip as you’d hoped, don’t worry. There are plenty of other rewards and training methods you can try, such as:

  • Treats
  • Clicker training
  • Interactive toys
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Playtime with other cats

Keep experimenting and find what motivates and rewards your cat the most.

Creating a Catnip Schedule

When it comes to administering catnip to your cat, timing plays a crucial role. While there’s no hard and fast rule as to how often you should give catnip to your cat, most experts suggest once a week or on special occasions. This allows your cat to fully enjoy the effects of catnip without becoming desensitized to it.

Keep in mind that every cat is unique. Some cats might enjoy a little catnip every day, while others might only need it once a month. Pay attention to your cat’s reactions and adjust the schedule as needed.

What Does Catnip Do to Cats

Ensuring Safe and Happy Catnip Encounters

While catnip is predominantly safe, it’s crucial to guarantee that your cat’s interaction with it is both secure and enjoyable. This means:

  • Storing catnip properly to maintain its potency
  • Keeping a close eye on your cat’s reaction to it
  • If you have multiple cats, considering how each cat reacts to catnip and ensuring that everyone gets their fair share.

Remember, while catnip can be a lot of fun for your cat, it’s not a necessary part of their diet. So if your cat doesn’t seem interested in catnip, or if they have a negative reaction to it, don’t worry. There are plenty of other ways to keep your cat entertained and stimulated.

Storage Solutions

Proper storage is key to maintaining the potency and freshness of catnip. Here are some tips:

  • Keep it in an airtight container
  • Store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight
  • Glass jars with airtight lids or zip-lock bags made for storing herbs are good options.

For longer preservation, you can also consider freezing catnip. Bear in mind, the more potent the catnip, the more your cat will enjoy it. So if you’ve gone to the trouble of buying or growing catnip, make sure to store it properly to get the most out of it.

Multi-Cat Considerations

If you have multiple cats, introducing catnip can be a bit trickier. Not all cats react to catnip, and those that do may react differently. Some may become playful and energetic, while others may become relaxed and calm. In some cases, catnip can also cause aggression in cats.

To avoid any potential conflicts, introduce catnip to your cats separately and observe their reactions. If all of your cats enjoy catnip and react well, you can give it to them together. But if any of your cats become aggressive or overly excited, it’s best to give them catnip separately.

What Does Catnip Do to Cats and How It Affects Their Behavior 4

When Catnip Doesn't Click: Understanding Feline Indifference

Although many cats relish catnip, it doesn’t affect all of them. Around 30% of domestic cats lack the gene that makes them sensitive to catnip, meaning they won’t react to it at all. Additionally, kittens under six months old and some senior cats may not react to catnip.

If your cat is one of those who doesn’t respond to catnip, don’t worry. There are other herbs and plants that can have similar effects on cats. Some alternatives to catnip include:

  • Silver vine
  • Valerian root
  • Honeysuckle
  • Tatarian honeysuckle
  • Lemongrass

You can try different products and see what your cat likes best.


Catnip, a humble member of the mint family, holds a special allure for our feline friends. Whether it’s the intoxicating scent that mimics feline pheromones or the euphoria-inducing nepetalactone, catnip provides a sensory experience like no other.

From the playful kitten to the majestic lion, catnip holds a universal appeal for the feline family. However, not all cats are affected by it, and that’s perfectly okay. There are plenty of other ways to entertain and engage your cat.

Remember, catnip is not a necessity, but a fun addition to your cat’s routine. Used in moderation, it can help with training, provide mental stimulation, and even offer health benefits. So go ahead, sprinkle some of that magic dust and watch your cat leap into a world of feline frenzy!

Frequently Asked Questions

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

As you found this post useful...

Follow us on social media!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

1123 E 47th St
Chicago, IL 60653

Phone: +1 (312) 555-3890

DMCA.com Protection Status

Follow us:


www.felineliving.net is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.