What Is Catnip? And Why Do Cats Love It So Much

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What Is Catnip? And Why Do Cats Love It So Much

Are you wondering what is catnip? Basically catnip comes from a very fragrant plant, from the same plant family that the mint plant comes from. The scientific name for catnip is Nepeta cataria. It originally started growing in Africa and Asia, but it can now abundantly be found around North America.

Heart-shaped leaves

Pretty light purple blooming catnip flowers

A fun fact about Catnip is that it grows in heart-shaped leaves. It is a beautiful looking plant that grows flowers in blue, white, purple, and pink.

Catnip toys

Catnip toys have been made especially for cats because studies have found it attracts cats. The plant’s heart-shaped leaves are first dried on the ground till they are tiny pieces, and the toys are filled with these tiny pieces.

The attraction

A cute cat is licking catnip

Cats are very attracted to Catnip. When they smell it, they will lick, chew or paw at it. Some cats have stronger reactions to Catnip than others. Those with strong reactions usually growl, purr, jump around and drool! Not all cats will have the same reaction to Catnip. Some feel it less, others more.

Some become hyper and happy, some become aggressive, and some feel relaxed. In some cats, it helps relieve pain or any anxiety they may have. They may eventually zone out and sleep too. Cats that are affected by Catnip usually seem goofy and crazy when they sniff it. Their behavior may become uncoordinated.

What causes this attraction?

Nepetalactone comprised inside catnip leaves attract cats

The leaves in the catnip plant comprise oil, and this oil is called Nepetalactone. Smelling this oil stimulates special receptors in the cat brain that produce a chemical reaction. This chemical reaction makes the cat feel a sensation of euphoria or extreme happiness.

For comparison, the same effect has been found in the human brain on hallucinogenic drugs. So, Catnip for cats is like hallucinogenic drugs for humans!

How long does the effect of Catnip last?

The effect of Catnip usually starts wearing off after a couple of minutes. Usually, the effect is strong for the first 10 minutes and then slowly starts wearing off. Cats usually will not go back to smell the Catnip after the effect has worn off for about another 2 hours. Once they encounter it again, they may smell it and have the same reaction all over again.


Catnip contains an oil called Nepetalactone. This oil is known for driving pests such as mosquitoes, termites, bugs, and flies away. So, another reason cats love Catnip so much is that it protects them from these pests, keeps them away from the cat, so they do not get scratched or bit.

Does Catnip affect all cats?

Catnip has been found to affect from 50% to 75% of all cats. However, this means not all cats will react to Catnip, and very young kittens and older cats are less likely to react to Catnip.An example of this is that most cats local to Australia are not affected by Catnip.

What cats are affected by Catnip?

Researchers have found that the reactions of cats to Catnip are hereditary. This means that cats who get affected by Catnip come from a family who reacts to it too. They inherited this catnip reaction trait from their parents, and thus, it is based on genes.

Is Catnip Safe for kittens?

Giving your kittens Catnip is not harmful to them, and however, most kittens will not react to it unless they are older than 8-12 months. However, some cats do not react to it till they are much older.

Do cats eat Catnip?

Cats can eat Catnip. It is not dangerous for them and can be good for their digestive system. However, this is only the case in small amounts of Catnip. If your cat ingests a large amount of Catnip, it can cause digestive problems for them or can even be fatal. Other risks include throwing up the Catnip, diarrhea, or having a hard time keeping their balance or walking.

If your cat ingests too much Catnip, you should talk to your veterinarian. It is safe to feed your small cat amounts of Catnip but remember that fresh Catnip is always stronger than dried Catnip. So, give your cat a reasonable amount.

A training aid

Because cats love Catnip so much, it can be used as a training aid too. When you want to enforce certain behavior, you can offer your cat catnip to complete the task. For example, if you are sick and tired of your cat scratching and ruining your sofas, cushions, or other furniture, buy a scratching post and rub a little bit of Catnip on it. This will make it more appealing to your cat, and it will leave your furniture alone.

The forms of Catnip

A white cat is playing with a pink catnip mouse toy

Catnip can be found in many forms, four of which include toys that will be stuffed with dried pieces of the catnip plant, catnip sprays, dried leaves of the plant, and fresh Catnip. You can also grow Catnip at home if you want access to fresh Catnip.

Catnip sprays

Catnip sprays are an alternative to catnip toys, and they can also be used on cats and have the same intoxicating effect. However, most cats prefer catnip toys over catnip sprays. This is because catnip sprays are usually less potent and thus have less of an effect on cats.

Catnip is safe for cats to ingest or smell. It usually has a funny effect on cats, and they start acting like they are intoxicated. It may also help relieve stress or pain from your cat. Even if your cat eats some of the Catnip, it will not be harmful to them unless it is a large amount. So, go out to your local pet store and treat your cat to some catnip!

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