What Does Catnip Do to Cats

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Have you ever seen your feline friend purring with love and energy after pawing at a catnip plant or toy? We all have seen that, and you definitely know the thrilling power of this herb.

But what does catnip do to cats, and why is it such an enticing plant?

Read on to learn what you didn’t know about catnips and how exactly it affects your feline friend’s moods and behavior.

What is Catnip?

Nepeta cataria, commonly known as Catnip, is an aromatic herb in the mint family. It grows perennially in a wide range of climates and is found in native places within Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The typical easily identified catnip has a square stem, serrated light green leaves of heart shape, and small lilac flowers.

What Does Catnip Do to Cats
Image Credit: leelooskhi From Instagram

The real magic of this powerful herb happens within the leaves, which contain an essential oil called nepetalactone.

When bruised, crushed, or chewed, this volatile oil is released as a cloud of aroma, sending cats out of their minds in a frenzy to the moon.

Besides being a cat’s favorite herb, humans have also used catnips in ancient times to create calming teas, as natural remedies to colds, and as an insect repellant.

What Does Catnip Do to Cats?

Cats can show a wide range of behaviors when they interact with the active compound in catnip, nepetalactone.

Some of the things an excited cat could do include rolling, flipping, increased vocalization, rubbing, purring, playing, or being chatty.

Some cats will do just the opposite and become over-relaxed and calm, seemingly in a state of daydreaming.

The calming effect of catnip on certain cats can be harnessed to reduce stress and anxiety and create a positive association with new environments.

The feline vomeronasal gland in the roof of the cat’s mouth is an extra scent organ that’s responsible for creating these frenzy effects.

This gland provides a special pathway for scent collected in the cat’s mouth and nose to travel to the brain as quickly as possible.

Remember every cat is unique in their way. Some may show euphoric effects after interacting with catnip while some cats can show no noticeable changes in mood.

How Long Does the Catnip Effect Last?

The good thing is that the stimulating effects of catnip are short-lived, so your little furry buddy does not remain in a perpetual frenzy.

The ‘high moments’ of catnip on cats who respond can typically last for about 5 to 15 minutes, after which the herb should not have any further effects.

Two cats sticking their tongues out
Image Credit: furryfritz From Instagram

Most cats would need a 30 to 60-minute break without smelling catnip before they can once again yield to the attraction.

It’s recommended to use catnip on your cat only when in necessary situations. This way, it remains some special treat and does not become an overwhelming constant.

Keep dried catnip leaves in an airtight container and fresh ones in the refrigerator because they are likely to lose potency when left open for extended periods.

How to Use Catnip on Cats

There are various ways you can use catnip to your cat’s advantage. The herb exists in different forms, all achieving similar results.

1. Fresh catnip

Fresh catnip is the most potent form of this mint herb. You can find it at nearby pet stores, online, or grow your own at home.

Most cats enjoy playing with a small bunch of fresh catnip leaves placed on the floor, allowing the herb’s alluring effects to take hold.

2. Dried Catnip

The dried version of catnip is this herb’s most commonly used form. It can be crushed and sprinkled on your cat’s playthings or the floor.

3. Catnip Sprays

If your cat tends to get an upset stomach after ingesting the herb, then catnip spray is a nice option because it uses aromatic values but removes the actual herb that might cause the side effects.

Feel free to spray your cat’s favorite toys, scratching posts, or tree with this herb for a euphoric or calming effect.

You can also use catnip sprays on your valuable furniture to acclimatize your feline friend and prevent possible destruction.

4. Catnip-stuffed toys

There are plenty of toys in the pet stores that are stuffed with catnip. If the herb’s scent fades over time, you can quickly add fresh catnip or sprinkle dried leaves to make the toy fun once again.

Video Credit: Leo’s Paw From Instagram

Can Kittens Have Catnips?

Yes! Kittens can have catnip in various forms, but most of them won’t show any reaction to it until they reach around six months to a year old.

It has been said that sensitivity to catnip is linked to sexual maturity, which generally kittens wouldn’t reach until that age.

Catnip poses minimal risk of any effect on a kitten, negative or positive to young cats. There is nothing to worry about if your curious little kitten sniffs out a catnip toy.

Well, maybe hold off on that idea of giving some catnip to your kitten until they are older, at least old enough to appreciate it for its special effects.

Can Cats Overdose on Catnip?

The good news is that cats cannot get a fatal overdose of catnip, but overindulgence of the herb can cause several tummy issues.

Vomiting, diarrhea, stomach upset, and excessive drooling are some of the common side effects that may arise when your cat eats too much catnip.

Offer catnip in moderation to prevent the likelihood of giving it in excess amounts. You can always check with your vet for the best recommendation based on your cat’s health status.


So, what does catnip do to cats? This mint herb contains an active compound known as nepetalactone which stimulates certain brain chemicals in cats related to mood and happiness.

Remember not all cats are likely to respond to catnip, but those who do will exhibit a range of behavior changes from playful antics to sudden calmness.

Feel free to try this herb in various forms including fresh leaves, dried leaves, infused toys, and sprays to see which ones work best for your feline friend.

Related Read:

Is catnip bad for dogs?

Why Do Cats Like Catnip

Written By

Laura is the founder of Furs'n'Paws. She is a also a pet writer and expert with more than 20 years of experience of working with dogs and cats. She developed a very strong love for animals at a young age. Her passion led her to establish a thriving pet sitting and dog walking business in Dubai. As an expert in pet training, behavior, and nutrition, Laura is committed to helping pet owners and pet lovers by offering high-quality information on a wide range of topics.

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