Why Do Cats Love Catnip?

tabby cat

What Does Catnip Do To Cats?


Estimated Read Time:  3 ½ minutes


Summary: In this blog, we explore and explain why cats love catnip! We’ll discuss where catnip comes from, how it affects cats, the benefits of using catnip with your cat, and why you might use it. Read on to discover more about catnip and what it does to cats…


If you’ve ever offered your kitty a pinch of catnip, you may already be familiar with the effects catnip can have on your cat! Their facial expressions may become dramatic, they may do a lot of rolling on their back, purring, or even catch a case of the zoomies! And to us, their reaction to catnip can be quite comical! But, for many pet parents it can cause questions to arise: What does catnip do to cats? Is catnip safe for cats? Does catnip make cats high? And, what even is catnip meant to be used for…?

What Is Catnip?

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a herb closely related to oregano, sage, rosemary, and basil – so, part of the mint family. It was originally derived from Europe and Asia but now grows wild in both Europe and America. It’s also known as catmint, catwort, and field balm and enjoyed by the entire cat family: lions, tigers, panthers as well as the domesticated cat!

Catnip contains a volatile oil within its seeds, stem, and leaves that hosts a chemical - nepetalactone and this chemical are what affects your kitty.

What Does Catnip Do To Cats?

The nepetalactone within the catnip’s oil’s odor attracts cats and attaches to the receptors in their nose. This then causes cats to feel an overwhelming sense of short-lived euphoria and inhibits the activity within their central nervous system. This euphoric sensation either makes your cat chew, rollover, lick, race, or play. For some cats, it simply mellows them. For others, nothing happens at all (about 30% of cats don’t react to catnip)! It’s important to remember that each and every cat will have a different response. 

Note: Some cats can become aggressive when exposed to catnip (this is more common in males more than females), and if this is the case in your cat, it’s probably best not to use catnip. 

Catnip can resemble a similar response in cats to a human being on narcotic drugs, however, there’s nothing to suggest cats are being affected in the same way.

Once the short-term pleasure of this herb’s oil passes, your feline friend will most likely take a nap as catnip can induce a sedative response after the initial hit. They usually won’t respond to catnip again until a couple of hours has passed since the last exposure.

Is Catnip Safe?

tabby cat with green eyes

Catnip is non-addictive so, yes, it can’t harm your cat. You can even buy toys that have catnip flavoring or innards!

Can Cats Overdose On Catnip?

Yes, it’s possible for cats to have too much catnip but only to the point of vomiting/diarrhea - it won’t threaten their life. Most cats will self-regulate and stop when they’ve had enough before this point. 

Note: A very low percentage of cats can be allergic to catnip. If, after administering catnip, they appear to have a seizure or become unconscious, contact an emergency vet immediately.

What Is Catnip Used For?

Because catnip makes cats feel good, if your cat enjoys catnip it can be used as a reward during training – like for when they use their scratch post instead of your couch! Dependent on how it affects your cat, it can be used as a method to help them relax or exercise too.

Can Kittens Have Catnip?

Most cat experts would agree that you shouldn’t give catnip to cats less than 8 weeks of age. This is because their body lacks maturity and it’s unlikely they'll respond to it anyway.

How Can I Give Catnip To My Cat?

Catnip products exist in a variety of forms. You can purchase toys impregnated/scented with catnip or buy it in powder form, sprays, or oil. Cats that are responsive to catnip will only need a tiny amount, so you don’t need to use much at all. 

Most cats have a really enjoyable experience when exposed to catnip. It can be entertaining for both of you and provide a bond-strengthening time too. 

If you’re thinking about using catnip for the first time or are unsure, always chat it through with your vet. 

Related Reads

12 Fun Facts About Cats

Cat Behavior… Explained!


Pets Web MD

Live Science

Hill’s Pet Nutrition



Sarah Milton

Comes from a family of animal lovers and got to grow up with a menagerie of pets! I believe owning a pet is a privilege and I love researching and creating informative, fun content for fellow pet owners to help their furry friends have the happiest and healthiest lives. When I’m not writing blogs, you can find me sharing a walk with my pet dachshund or at a yoga class!

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