Catnip and Cats: The Truth About Whether This Plant Really Gets Your Feline High

6 Mins read

If you’re a cat owner, you’ve probably noticed the strange effect catnip has on your furry friend. But what is catnip, exactly? And why does it affect cats in such a unique way?

Believe it or not, the use of catnip dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, where it was used for medicinal purposes. During the Middle Ages, catnip became popular for its ability to calm and relax cats.

So, what exactly happens when cats are exposed to catnip? The answer lies in a chemical compound called nepetalactone, which is found in the leaves and stems of the plant. When cats smell or ingest catnip, the nepetalactone binds to receptors in their brains, causing certain behaviors such as rolling, rubbing, and licking.

Despite the name, catnip doesn’t actually get cats “high” in the traditional sense. While cats typically experience a sense of euphoria and relaxation, some may become hyperactive or even aggressive. It’s important to monitor your cat’s behavior after exposure to catnip to ensure they aren’t becoming overly stimulated.

So, in conclusion, while the exact reason why catnip affects cats in such a unique way is still not fully understood, we do know that it has been a favorite among cat owners for centuries. When purchasing catnip products, it’s essential to choose high-quality, potent options to ensure your cat can enjoy the benefits safely and responsibly.

The History of Catnip

Catnip, also known by its scientific name Nepeta cataria, has a long and interesting history. It’s believed to have originated in Europe and was brought to the United States by early colonists. The plant has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, with ancient Greeks and Romans using it to treat a variety of ailments from insomnia to indigestion.

It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that catnip began to gain popularity for its effects on cats. As the pest control methods of the time were not as advanced as they are today, cats were often used to keep rodents at bay. However, cats were not always interested in catching these pests, and so catnip was used to encourage them to hunt. Since then, catnip has become a beloved treat for cats the world over, and many pet owners love watching their furry friends play and frolic after a catnip session.

  • Catnip has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes
  • Ancient Greeks and Romans used catnip to treat a variety of ailments
  • Catnip gained popularity in the Middle Ages for its effects on cats
  • Catnip was used to encourage cats to hunt rodents

How Catnip Affects Cats

When a cat smells catnip, it triggers a response in their brain, specifically in the olfactory bulb, which is responsible for processing scents. This response results in the release of nepetalactone, the chemical compound found in catnip.

Nepetalactone then binds to protein receptors in the cat’s brain, activating neurons that control various behaviors. The result is a series of effects that can range from a calm and relaxed state to a state of hyperactivity or even aggression.

However, not all cats are affected by catnip in the same way. While most cats experience a euphoric high, some may not have any reaction at all, while others may become more aggressive or hyperactive. The reason for this difference in behavior is still not fully understood, but genetics and age may play a role.

  • Catnip can make cats feel happy and relaxed
  • Catnip can also make some cats more aggressive or hyperactive
  • The effects of catnip depend on the individual cat’s genetics and age

Overall, catnip’s effect on cats is a unique and fascinating phenomenon. As a cat owner, it’s important to monitor your cat’s reaction to catnip and use it responsibly to ensure your furry friend’s safety and well-being.

The Science Behind Catnip

The effects of catnip on cats have been a subject of scientific research for several decades. Although much has been learned about the plant over the years, the exact reason why it affects cats in such a profound way is not fully understood. Researchers believe that genetics and age may play a role in catnip sensitivity.

Studies have shown that the sensitivity to catnip can be inherited, and kittens as young as six weeks old can exhibit a response to the plant. However, some cats may not become sensitive to catnip until they reach sexual maturity, while others may lose their sensitivity as they age.

Research has also found that the way in which a cat responds to catnip can vary depending on the method of exposure. Cats that ingest catnip may have a more intense response than those that inhale the scent. Additionally, the effects of catnip on cats may be affected by stress or anxiety levels.

While scientists continue to unravel the mysteries behind the effects of catnip on cats, it’s clear that this plant remains a beloved and intriguing aspect of the feline world.

Catnip Toys and Other Catnip Products

Catnip toys and other catnip products are popular among feline enthusiasts and come in various forms. Catnip sprays can be used on scratching posts to encourage cats to scratch there instead of furniture. Treats provide a convenient way to give your cat a dose of catnip.

However, not all catnip products are created equal. Some may be more potent than others, while others may have little to no effect on your cat. It’s important to read product descriptions carefully and choose products made from high-quality, organic catnip.

  • Catnip Toys: These toys typically contain dried catnip inside a fabric or plush toy. Some catnip toys can be heated in the microwave to release more of the scent. Check the toy’s construction to make sure that it is durable and won’t fall apart easily.
  • Catnip Sprays: These products contain a liquid that can be sprayed on items, such as scratching posts or cat beds, to entice a cat to play or rest.
  • Catnip Treats: Treats made with catnip can be given as a reward or as a way to calm anxious cats. Be sure to read the ingredient list to avoid any other ingredients that your cat may be allergic to.

Overall, it’s important to monitor your cat’s behavior after being exposed to catnip toys and other products. Some cats may become aggressive or overstimulated, while others may become lethargic. Remember to use catnip responsibly and enjoy the benefits that this herb can provide for your feline friend.

Frequently Asked Questions about Catnip

Curious about catnip? Here are some common questions and answers:

Catnip is a plant that is a member of the mint family. It contains a chemical called nepetalactone that affects cats in various ways. Some cats love it, while others are indifferent.

Yes, catnip is generally considered safe for cats. However, it’s important to monitor your cat’s behavior after being exposed to catnip, as some may become too aggressive or excited.

No, not all cats are affected by catnip. It’s estimated that only about 50-70% of cats have a reaction to catnip. It’s believed to be linked to genetics and age.

If your cat does not react to catnip, don’t worry. There are other plants that may have a similar effect, such as valerian root or silver vine.

Is catnip safe for cats?

Yes, catnip is generally considered safe for cats as it is a natural and non-addictive substance. However, it’s important to monitor your cat’s behavior after being exposed to catnip as some cats may become overly excited or aggressive. If you notice any concerning behavioral changes, it’s best to limit your cat’s exposure to catnip. Additionally, if your cat ingests large amounts of catnip, it may cause vomiting or diarrhea, so it’s important to keep an eye on their intake. When purchasing catnip products, make sure they are specifically made for cats and don’t contain any potentially harmful ingredients.

Can all cats be affected by catnip?

While catnip may seem like an all-encompassing feline pleasure, the truth is that not all cats are affected by it. Research has shown that only about 50-70% of cats have a reaction to catnip.

This is believed to be linked to genetics and age, as younger cats and kittens are less likely to be affected by catnip. Additionally, some breeds of cats are more likely to have a reaction to catnip than others.

It’s important to note that even among cats who do have a reaction to catnip, the effects can vary. Some cats become more active and playful, while others become more relaxed and calm. For some cats, repeated exposure to catnip can lead to a decreased response over time.

If you’re unsure whether or not your cat has a reaction to catnip, try offering them a small amount in a toy or sprinkled on their scratching post. Observe their behavior and reactions to determine if they’re affected by catnip.


Catnip is a mysterious plant that has been a favorite among feline circles for centuries. Although scientists are still unsure of the exact reasons why catnip affects cats the way it does, they continue to study and learn more about its unique properties. As a responsible cat owner, it’s important to understand how catnip affects your furry friend and always use it in moderation. It’s also important to keep in mind that not all cats may react to catnip, and some may even experience negative effects such as aggression or hyperactivity. Use catnip toys and products that are safe, and always monitor your cat’s behavior after they have been exposed to catnip.

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