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What Does Catnip Do For a Cat?


Staff member
Feb 16, 2024
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If you love herbs and traditional medicines, you’ve probably heard of catnip.

Catnip is a popular member of the mint family and is widely used for tea, cough relief, and natural insect repellents.

Check out this complete guide to companion planting for how to use catnip as an insect repellent in your garden.

what does catnip do for a cat

But did you know that catnip also has a role to play in the sensory neurons of big cats?

Beyond the healing properties of this plant, there is its ability to affect the behavior and mood of cats.

For more ideas on how to use catnip medicinally, check out my post on 140+ old wives tales.

If you are a feline friend, yes this plant can drive them crazy!

If you want to get an overview of the catnip’s effects on cats, read on.

what does catnip do to a cat

What Does Catnip Do For a Cat?​

What is Catnip?​

Catnip, also known as Nepeta Cataria (scientific name), is a perennial herb plant in the mint family.

Commonly cultivated in North America, the term catnip is derived from the cat’s reaction to this plant, which is mostly ecstatic!

It appears to have a feather-like shape, light green foliage with lavender flowers.

All of its parts have varied uses, with catnip leaves perfect for tea and flowers for cough relief.

Catnip is also a popular herb for stimulating cats, especially female cats.

Try letting your cat taste or sniff this plant and you will observe their positive reaction.

Here’s why cats go crazy for it!

a close up of catnip flower

What Does Catnip Do to Cats? How Does Catnip Work?​

First of all, cats have a special pathway found in the roof of their mouths that allows any scent coming from the cat’s nose and mouth to be transmitted to the cat’s brain.

This special pathway is what they call the vomeronasal organ – the extra olfactory bulb that cats have.

On the other hand, the special scent or active ingredient that cats inhale from catnip is called nepetalactone, a volatile oil found in its leaves that affects a cat’s mood and behaviors.

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Once cats smell this substance, they go crazy!

Catnip is said to mimic feline sex hormones, so every time they inhale it, they not only enjoy it, but also display behaviors similar to a cat in heat.

Although the responses vary from cat to cat, the most common evidence is happiness, playfulness, aggression, affection, and relaxation.

But in addition to that, catnip also has positive effects on some cats, such as a mild sedative to relieve pain and reduce anxiety.

In fact, some vets would recommend this herb for pets who suffer from separation anxiety caused by being left home alone for an extended period of time.

Check out this post from the American Journal of Veterinary Medicine on the effects of catnip.

is catnip safe for kittens

Does Catnip Work on All Cats?​

Although this plant has strong and active properties, it cannot affect all kinds of cats.

In fact, depending on the genes, the responses may vary from time to time.

According to most vets, catnip can only affect about 60% of adult cats.

But for pet owners, there is no harm in trying this plant for your cat and seeing whether it works or not.

catnip leaves

How Long Does Catnip Last?​

When you try out catnip for the first time, knowing how long it will last should be one of the factors you need to consider.

Indeed, there are different types of cats and some can feel the effects for a long time.

Usually the effects after smelling catnip can only last about 10 minutes. Then it gradually fades.

If you place the plant in an airtight container, you can keep it fresh and potent for a long time.

catnip effects on cats

What About Kittens?​

While catnip is generally not harmful to cats, its effects largely depend on the age and genes of the kitten.

It has been said that some young kittens around 6 months of age to 1 year old may begin to respond to catnip

However, some cats can also lose sensitivity as they age.

a closeup of a bee on catnip flowers

Is It Safe for Cats to Eat Catnip?​

As an herb with many active compounds and healing properties, yes, it is safe for cats to eat catnip!

In fact, it has been found to be helpful in improving and soothing their digestive tract.

This is due to their anti-diarrheal properties.

However, as there is no concrete evidence for this yet, it is recommended that you do not feed your cat large amounts of catnip, otherwise your cats may experience digestive upset.

catnip purpose

Can Cats Overdose on Catnip?​

Many vets have stressed the importance of giving catnip to cats in moderation.

This is because too much catnip can cause health problems, such as dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea.

If you are unsure of the correct amount, it is best to consult your vet for advice.

Also keep in mind that catnip is best eaten in its dried form.

This is because fresh catnip contains more potent properties that can potentially harm your cat’s health.

Likewise when using catnip oil, most vets have advised to avoid highly concentrated one because of its potency.

How to Use Catnip​

If you grow your own catnip plant in your garden, good for you!

You can have direct access to the source of your cat’s pleasure.

But remember that catnip can be used in a number of ways as well, and not just for cats alone.

And since it comes in many different forms, you can take advantage of its variety of uses.

For example, you can make catnip sprays as an alternative healing intervention for your cats who have an upset stomach.

Or use it to spray on their favorite catnip toys, scrapers, or trees.

This is one of the reasons growing your own catnip is a better recommendation.

Besides its many uses, growing catnip is easy and perfect for all skill levels.

If you decide to grow your own catnip, the best time of year to plant them is in early spring.

And make sure they are planted in sandy soil and in full sun.

To maintain their freshness and potency, remember to store this plant in an airtight container and keep cold.


These are some of the reasons why catnip is such a popular herb among cats and cat owners.

While this fun treat may only bring happiness to our cats for around 10 minutes or less, this short-lived euphoria is ultimately what we want our cats to experience.

Remember that the effects of catnip depend on the genes and age of the cat.

If you would like to try this for your cat, it is best to consult your vet first for advice, especially when you want to feed your pet with it.

As for the approximate time that your furry friend can react to catnip again after being exposed to it, the duration is two hours.

The post What Does Catnip Do For a Cat? appeared first on Hillsborough Homesteading.
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