Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 10, 2023 by Crystal Uys
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.
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
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I used to grow catnip in my garden, next to the spearint and other fresh mint varieties I grew. Salem knew this catnip was just for him, and would rub his face next to the leaves when he “investigated” the garden.
To let him have some fun, I would take a cutting of fresh catnip, with flower top intact and with leaves, and dangle it before him, encouraging him to paw at it, before he grasped the sprig, and rolled around with it. You could tell he was in kitty heaven, having fun with this catnip kitty play. And, by the way, although I grew a potent brand of natural catnip, this planting did not attract any neighbourhood cats.
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
You’re the second person who has told me they used catnip to help a depressed cat – that’s so wonderful!
I have one cat that bats at the others when he gets nip. The rest fall asleep after playing with it.
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.
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! 🙂
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.
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
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.
How interesting, Cheri! I never thought to use catnip to help a depressed cat. Thank you for sharing your experience.
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!
Biscuit, my cat, loves catnip. He will kill for catnip.
I have to hide catnip in a different place every time.
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!
Try moistening catnip toys with water, Debbie. It refreshes the catnip and releases a new blast of the scent.
Mine love catnip. I have one though that gets aggressive so he has to be seperated from the others.
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?
Some cats react to silvervine or honeysuckle, but I haven’t personally experienced it with my or my clients’ cats.
Maxwell: oh, Faraday’s a total nepetalac-head!
My boy, Dickens, LOVED dried catnip but didn’t react to the fresh stuff at all.
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.
My one’s catnip problem became out of control I had to stage an intervention
Too funny! Thanks for sharing!
Mine love to eat dried catnip.