Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 1, 2023 by Crystal Uys


Catnip has been called kitty crack and cat cocaine because of the way some cats react to its intoxicating scent or after ingesting the leaves.  However, only about 50% of cats are affected by catnip, and not all cats react the same.

What causes the catnip “high?”

Catnip is a member of the mint family, and is also a distant relative of the marijuana plant.  Scientists haven’t been able to figure out 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 plant contains a non-poisonous chemical called nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is an aromatic oil found in the stem and leaves of the plant. It’s the smell of the leaves rather than the taste that sets cats off.  It is believed that cats eat the leaves because chewing on them releases more of the oils.

Catnip can be given to cats fresh, or in its dried form.  Some cats will eat the leaves, and this is perfectly safe for most cats.  However, some cats with extremely sensitive stomachs may vomit or get diarrhea after eating catnip leaves.

Look for quality catnip

Reactions from cats will vary based on the strength and quality of the product.  Cats who like catnip usually respond by rolling around in it, jumping around, rubbing their face in it, salivating, and purring.  Typically, a catnip “high” last about ten or fifteen minutes, and aftewards, kitty will most likely be very relaxed and ready for a nap.  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).  Chances are that if your kitten hasn’t reacted to catnip by the time she’s six month’s old, she falls into the non-responsive category.

Use catnip to train cats

For cats who respond to catnip, it can be used for training purposes.  Sprinkle catnip on scratching posts to attract kitty’s attention.  Sprinkle it 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.

Catnip cautions

Some cats react to catnip with aggression.  They 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.  Unfortunately, Allegra appears to fall into this category.  She recently was given a catnip banana, and while she had a ton of fun with it, after a few minutes of playing with it, she play-attacked my leg and sunk her teeth into my ankle.  I put the toy away for a couple of days and then tried again, with the same results.  I think we’ll be taking catnip toys off the list for her, at least for now.

Interesting catnip facts

Some interesting, not cat-related facts about catnip:  it is ten times more effective at repelling mosqitoes than DEET; it has a sedative effect on humans and can be used to settle an upset stomach (as a tea); it can heal cuts (damp leaves applied to a fresh cut).

How does your cat respond to catnip?

Photo is of Amber on a catnip high after I gave her fresh catnip for the first time.

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16 Comments on If You Don’t Talk to Your Cat About Catnip, Who Will?

  1. I have 3 cats and only one responds to catnip. She rubs and rolls all over in it and seems quite euphoric.

  2. My 3 love it so much that we just went and bought a catnip plant for them. They love it, it’s already chewed on. All of the cats that I have had the fortune to share living space with have loved it.

  3. That is the best article on catnip I have ever seen. Just some more info – not sure about it – but, last fall my staff person bought a catnip plant at the market and told the vendor she wanted to plant it in the yard. The vendor said NOT to do that because we would have possums and mice and all sorts of critters coming in for the nip. I have not researched the validity of this, but staff person heeded the advice as she is very particular about what critters are invited to visit us.

    • I hadn’t heard that about catnip plants attracting other critters. I had some plants in the yard a couple of years ago and didn’t notice an increase in critter traffic, but I suppose it’s better to play it safe if you don’t want those little visitors in your yard!

  4. Very good article. Must get some for upset tummies. My cats all like it and no aggression here. My website is still under my name but the business has been sold.
    Hugs, Deb=^..^=x5

  5. Gum Drop loves playing with a small cloth toy I made and put catnip in. Little One could care less about it. It is funny how one likes it and the other doesn’t.


    Thoughts in Progress

  6. That’s interesting that none of your cats pay attention to catnip, Marg.

    Layla, Amber really liked her nip. What a great idea to use catnip to support Merlin in his grieving process. And I think I’d rather have cats following me everywhere than even one mosquito near me!

  7. Amber looks a little stunned but in a good way. I’m using catnip as a treat while Merlin grieves. Re: using catnip as a mosquito repellent. It’s also available as an essential oil (its most potent form) but I prefer using geranium oil. The mosquitoes may stay away but every cat would be sniffing at your heels LOL.

  8. The cats that live here hardly pay any attention to cat nip. There is one toy that has cat nip in it that they like but they play with it for a few minutes and that is all.
    But that is interesting about keeping the mosquitoes away and that can settle an upset stomach.
    Great information. Thanks

  9. Glad you enjoyed the post, Linda. I wonder what Benny thinks when Lenny goes nuts over the catnip :-)!

    Max, I didn’t know about the mosquito thing until I did the research for this post.

    Tammy, I love that your cats are discriminating when it comes to catnip brands.

    Catherine, glad to hear your brother’s cats have their own catnip connection!

    Angie, isn’t it cool about catnip working better than DEET. And your kitties will love your for planting it.

  10. Love this post, Ingrid! My cats all react playfully with catnip — but never seem to get aggressive. I love that it works better that DEET — never knew that and will remember next summer, for sure 🙂

  11. My boyfriend’s cat responds the way Allegra does: super aggressively. I have the scars to prove it. My brother’s two love it. But since I gave them 2 catnip mice from my purse one time, they think Aunt Catherine carries catnip mice in her purse, so they have to check my purse everytime I come over.

    Definately going to try to use catnip as misquito repellant. Thanks for the information!

  12. Our cats are “catnip snobs”… they really only react to Cosmic Catnip brand. Oscar rolls and rubs, Henry “hoovers”, and Ben… well, Ben gets WILD! We don’t give them much, and not very often, but it’s fun to watch when we do!

  13. Wow!!! I thought I knew a lot about nip, but you’ve got the whole story here. I had no ideas that mosquitoes don’t like it. That’s good to know…. Thanks for a great article.

  14. I have 2 wonderful cats…only one has the cat nip gene! LOL Lenny goes nuts for it and Benny sniffs it and walks off…Thank you for the post, it was very enlightening….

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