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Catnip And Cats-How Does It Affects Your Cat’s Behavior?

Updated by Sheryl on Jul 30, 2021

Do you want to turn your laziest couch cat into a crazy furball? If yes, maybe you are familiar with the flowering herb “catnip.” Most of you might have tried it on your cat. Not everyone knows how it works and what type of plant it is.

Generally, it’s a magical plant that induces exciting behavior changes in your feline friend. That’s why all the cat owners feel curious to use it on their kitty.

Have you ever wondered why cats show entertaining and mysterious behavior after sniffing catnip? If you want to demystify it, read this article till the end. You’ll get all the insights about the effect of catnip on cats. Plus, why do cats like it, and how to use catnip on cats? Also, if catnip has any side effects on cats.

cat in the outdoors

Let’s start with what does catnip means? Catnip is the common name of a flowering plant, “Nepeta cataria.”  You can also call it catmint, catwort, or field balm. Cataria is a Latin word that means “of a cat.” It has feather-like light green foliage with purple dotted flowers. It is a perennial herb belonging to the mint family “Lamiaceae.”

Let’s discuss the homeland of this mysterious herb. Basically, It is native to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Later, it is introduced in North America, and now gardeners love to grow it due to its deer deterring and mosquito repelling properties. In addition, the tea of its leaves and flowers relieves cough and cold.

Difference between Catnip and Mint

Both catnip and mint share several similar features because they belong to the same family. Both have squared stems and paired opposite leaves. The flowers of mint and catnip are filled with nectar and are a fantastic choice for pollinator gardens.

Like many other members of the Lamiaceae family, the leaves, stems, and flowers of both catwort and mint contain volatile oils. Plus, both are fragrant and used for cooking and medicinal purposes.

The difference lies in the color of the leaves. The leaves of catnip are green-brown with saw-toothed edges. On the contrary, mint has dark green leaves with a matte surface. Catnip produces white and light purple flowers in spring and early summer. The color of mint flowers is almost the same, but catmint flowers are slightly shorter than mint.


Catnip grows in clumps 2 to 4 feet high and spread up to 3 feet. On the other hand, mint grows 6 inches to 3 feet tall and spread 3 feet wide. 

Now, here comes the point, how does catnip work, or what does it do for cats? Why does cat like catnip? The leaves and stem of this fragrant herb contain volatile oil known as Nepetalactone. The cats are attracted to this oil as it induces behavioral changes in felids and stimulates their sensory neurons. That’s why cats like catnip plants.

Your kitty may show behavior similar to a queen in the heat after sniffing catnip. It may roll, lick, rub its chin, cheeks, and body, vocalize, play, jump, salivate, and even run around. The catnip-induced behavior typically lasts from 10 to 30 minutes. The cases of cats displaying aggression after smelling it are rare.

The effect of eating and sniffing this herb is different on felines. Depending on the amount of this plant being ingested, your furry friend may become more excited or calmer. Some cats become more playful, happy, and relax. On the other hand, some may not respond at all.

cat eat dry catnip

How Does Catnip Affect Cat's Mood?

Have you ever thought about why your kitty loves to smell everything? The reason is, cats have a scent gland known as the vomeronasal gland. It is located on the roof of their mouth. It is responsible for carrying smells from the mouth and nose to the brain.

When Nepetalactone enters the cat’s nasal cavity, it binds with a protein receptor that is believed to stimulate sensory neurons. In return, these neurons provoke brain portions responsible for controlling emotions and hunger through the olfactory bulb. These brain regions include the amygdala and hypothalamus.

As a result, cats exhibit sexual responses after smelling catwort herb in response to stimuli from these areas of the brain.

After your cat smells catnip, it may drool, roll, purr, growl, or meow and gets excited. In the wild, cats sitting under catnip stay safe from mosquitoes.

Your feline friend may show a strong reaction to this herb for 10 minutes. Then gradually, it settles down. For getting the same response again, you have to wait for at least 2 hours. 

cat and catnip

Here’s the answer to the most exciting question about how to use catnip? So, all the cat lovers, be attentive and read on. Cats respond to catnip repeatedly. You can use it for training your buddy.

Catnip can be used in various ways in the dried form, fresh leaves, or sprays. Here’s the detail.

Dried catnip: The dried stem and leaves of catnip are convenient and widely used on cats. Plus, these are used for stuffing toys of your furry friend.

Fresh Catnip:  If you have grown your catnip plant, you can use it any time for your cat. The green leaves, when cut from the plant, lose their efficacy soon. Place them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator to get the maximum potential.

Catnip sprays: If your cat shows any sensitivity after ingesting catnip, the catnip spray is a better option for your furry friend. If your buddy scratches furniture, encourage her to use a scratcher board by spraying it on the board. Also, you can sprinkle some dried catnip on the cat tree to make her use it.

excited cat

1. Do All Cats Respond on Catnip?

No, all the cats don’t respond to Nepetalactone in the catnip. According to Veterinary research, 60% of cats will show crazy behavior in reaction to smelling catnip. Around 1 to 2 % of cats show aggressive behavior. Most don’t respond at all. It means one out of three cats is immune to catmint.

Generally, genetics is also a factor that determines if your kitty will respond to catnip or not. To check whether your pet has catnip sensitivity, you have to wait until it reaches six months to 1 year of age.

Typically, kittens don’t react to this herb because of underdeveloped sense organs.

2. Is Catnip Good for Cats?

Catnip is a non-addictive and safe herb for cats. It is suitable for cats in the following ways:

  • It improves the mood of your cat. If your furry friend is lazy and fussy, and you want him to become active, catnip is the best option for you.
  • It helps in calming a stressed cat. In addition, some vets recommend it as a pain reliever for your feline friend.
  • If your cat feels home alone when you are out for more extended periods, catnip helps cope with your cat's separation anxiety.

3. Does Catnip Have Side Effects on Cats?

Car owners keep questioning if catnip is safe to eat? Yes, it is secure if ingested. And not more side effects are known yet. But, if your feline friend eats a large amount, it may cause stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and even trouble walking. So, make sure to inquire your vet about the safe dose of this herb.

Whether you are giving it in a dried form to your cat, avoid overdoses. Also, don’t use concentrated sprays too often.


  • Avoid using catnip when your buddy is resting or already in a playful mood. Once you have used it, allow your pet to settle for 2 hours and then use it again if needed.
  • It is recommended to use it every few weeks. If used more frequently, your feline may develop immunity and not respond to it.
  • Contact your vet in case if your cat has ingested a large amount of catnip.

You might be excited to see the reaction of your kitty to catnip after reading this post. Though it’s a non-toxic herb, and its effects last for only a few minutes, make sure to use it in moderation and your supervision.

Sheryl is an editor from iPetor, owns extensive pet care experience. As a professional writer, she can provide useful pet care tips for all "parents".
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