Why Do Cats Like Catnip?

why-do-cats-like-catnip

Catnip is a member of the mint family. Scientists are not sure how or why catnip affects cats the way it does, but they have identified the part of the plant that causes the euphoric reaction. The substance is a non-poisonous chemical called nepetalactone, an aromatic oil found in the stem and leaves of the plant. Researchers believe that cats react to the smell of the leaves rather than the taste.

Varied reactions to catnip

Reactions from cats will vary based on the strength and quality of the product. Cats who do respond to catnip will typically roll around in it, jump and run around, rub their faces in it, drool, and purr. Typically, a catnip “high” last about ten or fifteen minutes. Once the energy dissipates, most cats will be very relaxed and ready for a nap.

Not all cats react to catnip

Only about 50% of cats are affected by catnip, and not all cats react the same. Whether or not cats respond to catnip appears to be genetically determined. Kittens are not affected until they’re about two months old (if they fall into the category of cats that do respond). If a kitten hasn’t shown a reaction to catnip by the time she’s six month’s old, she falls into the non-responsive category.

Catnip can be used to train cats

For cats who do respond, you can take advantage of their reaction to catnip and use it for training purposes. Sprinkle catnip on scratching posts to attract them to use the post, or on cat beds or mats where you want your cat to sleep. If your cat reacts by becoming relaxed and mellow after use, use it before car rides, trips to the vet, or other stressful situations.

Some cats react with aggression

Some cats become so stimulated by the herb that they may release their excess energy by picking fights with other cats in the household, or by attacking their humans.

You can freshen up old catnip toys by dampening them with water. This will release a new wave of catnip scent.

Quality of catnip

When buying catnip, take a close look at the packaging. You’re going to want brands that use only leaves and blossoms rather than stems. Organic cat nip is best, especially if your cat is going to ingest it. Catnip is easily grown, but use caution: unless you want every cat in your neighborhood to visit your yard, you may want to grow it indoors.

If your cat initially doesn’t react to catnip, try a couple of different brands. Your cat may not react because the quality of the catnip is not very good.

Catnip comes in a variety of forms, including as a fresh or dried herb, liquid, spray, and, of course, in catnip filled toys.

The euphoric reaction to catnip is perfectly safe for cats, and cats won’t become addicted to it.

This article was previously published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.

22 Comments on Why Do Cats Like Catnip?

  1. Kate
    September 10, 2018 at 4:20 pm (2 weeks ago)

    When my male cat PJ who was 22 had to be put down and our dog Lucky who also was 22 passed away my female Asya (Asia) was so depressed and was grieving that I could not get her to eat. She lost weight and wouldn’t even nag me for her daily walks in the woods (Lucky was her walking friend)and I took her to the vet’s so much that I was told that if she didn’t start to eat I’d have to consider putting her down, which I refused to even think about so I started to put catnip in food and she very slowly started to eat,but I also mixed treats in the food too. Catnip has helped me to coax out a cat who I found living in a gopher hole under my deck and bring him in my house and keep him. Catnip is amazing and natural and has helped many people who own cats and they love it. My friends cat rolls in it and drools and actually will do tricks for catnip lol

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 11, 2018 at 5:12 am (2 weeks ago)

      You’re the second person who has told me they used catnip to help a depressed cat – that’s so wonderful!

      Reply
  2. Sue Brandes
    September 10, 2018 at 1:21 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I have one cat that bats at the others when he gets nip. The rest fall asleep after playing with it.

    Reply
  3. Cheri Collins
    June 19, 2018 at 7:00 pm (3 months ago)

    Valerian root. I read that some cats love it, so I bought some (loose) from my natural foods co-op (which has everything). One of my cats does not get excited about catnip but she loves valerian root. …Downside is that most people really do NOT like the smell of valerian root. It’s a sleep aid tea for humans, if they can get past the scent to drink it.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 20, 2018 at 6:01 am (3 months ago)

      My girls loved the valerian stuffed toys I got for review a while back, but I couldn’t handle the smell, so sadly, the toys “disappeared” rather quickly! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Silvia shanahan
    June 9, 2018 at 2:53 pm (4 months ago)

    I have found that if my cats are in a hyper mood, sprinkling some catnip for them actually gets them to relax and calm down. One of them eats it all up.
    I get mine from a local health food shop..organic.
    Since cats are so individual in their reactions, I have not tried fresh catnip.
    I did read that the dried one has a calming effect and the fresh plant can make them get really wound up.

    Reply
  5. Terry Hoffman
    June 8, 2018 at 4:51 am (4 months ago)

    I do not believe in catnip for cats. It is like hooking an unsuspecting person on drugs. They do not know any better. I would not want someone to slip me a drug and then think that my behavior was amusing

    Reply
    • Cheri Collins
      June 19, 2018 at 7:19 pm (3 months ago)

      Sorry you feel that way, Terry. None of my many cats (over many years) has become addicted to catnip. Addiction is a physiological process, and as far as I know catnip simply will not “hook” a cat. But it has had a therapeutic benefit when one of my cats was depressed. He started life feral and I spent a year making friends with him before he decided to move in with me. But he always had to go outdoors, too. When a new neighbor let a very large, aggressive cat outdoors unsupervised, that cat terrorized all the cats used to sharing the outdoor area. The new cat would seek out our cats to attack them. My Boo got depressed by the situation. (All of us with cats who went outdoors tried to talk with the new neighbors, who simply refused to acknowledge the problem until I threatened to trap their cat.) While trying to do something about it, I gave him catnip daily, and it definitely improved his mood.

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        June 20, 2018 at 6:01 am (3 months ago)

        How interesting, Cheri! I never thought to use catnip to help a depressed cat. Thank you for sharing your experience.

        Reply
  6. Cats and Kittens
    August 26, 2015 at 10:33 pm (3 years ago)

    Great short and informative post! I didn’t know that it was the smell versus actually eating it that causes the reaction. Thanks for the great content!

    Reply
  7. Lynn
    March 23, 2015 at 2:12 pm (4 years ago)

    Biscuit, my cat, loves catnip. He will kill for catnip.
    I have to hide catnip in a different place every time.

    Reply
  8. Glogirly and Katie
    December 17, 2013 at 11:52 pm (5 years ago)

    Both Katie & Waffles go GAGA over catnip. I can totally see how it’s the fragrance that’s so intoxicating and not the taste. They really never chew a toy filled with nip or even lick it… but they wipe it on their faces, especially up in the eyebrow area. Lots of rolling around and bunny kicking too.

    But when they’re done, they’re done. And the longer a toy sits out, the less interesting it becomes. I need to tuck them away and bring them out another day so they’re special again.

    …I just recently got a small packet of silvervine. Had never tried it. Waffles LOVED it. Katie ignored it. Go figure!

    ~GG

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 18, 2013 at 7:06 am (5 years ago)

      Try moistening catnip toys with water, Debbie. It refreshes the catnip and releases a new blast of the scent.

      Reply
  9. Sue Brandes
    December 17, 2013 at 8:10 pm (5 years ago)

    Mine love catnip. I have one though that gets aggressive so he has to be seperated from the others.

    Reply
  10. Damir
    December 17, 2013 at 7:21 pm (5 years ago)

    Hi,

    My cat doesn’t react to dried or fresh catnip at all, but she is all crazy about catnip in spray. The problem is that she lick it dry and then never come back, so I can’t use it to teach her some stuff (where to scratch and so on). Do you have any suggestions or do you know any good alternatives for catnip?

    Best regards

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 18, 2013 at 6:57 am (5 years ago)

      Some cats react to silvervine or honeysuckle, but I haven’t personally experienced it with my or my clients’ cats.

      Reply
  11. Chris Davis
    December 17, 2013 at 11:11 am (5 years ago)

    My boy, Dickens, LOVED dried catnip but didn’t react to the fresh stuff at all.

    Reply
  12. Viki Worden
    December 17, 2013 at 11:50 am (5 years ago)

    Cisco is the funniest. He rolls around on it and gets real loving. He will come over and rub against us too. Meeko reacts the opposite. He will get aggressive and go after the other cats and he likes to chew up the cat nip toys. Sam just plays with it. He is funny to watch. Princess doesn’t react much at all. She never plays with toys, except for a ball once in a while.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 17, 2013 at 9:19 am (5 years ago)

      Too funny! Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  13. Sue Stiwald
    December 17, 2013 at 7:49 am (5 years ago)

    Mine love to eat dried catnip.

    Reply

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