We all have our vices — dogs have peanut butter, but cats? They have catnip. Unlike some guilty pleasures, catnip isn't bad for cats at all! Catnip is truly a fun addition to your cat's playtime, usually making them act hyper. But why do cats like catnip so much?
You might see your feline friend rolling around and stretching on top of catnip, acting like they're on cloud nine. But why does it make our cats respond like they're "high?" Let's take a closer look at what catnip is and how you can implement this healthy plant into your cat's daily routine. Read along with us, and prepare yourself for some kitty drool and zoomies!
What Is Catnip?
Your cat is rolling around in it, licking it, and — to be honest — acting completely crazy! But catnip is not a drug (although people often compare it to marijuana). It's not cat food either — catnip is a perennial herb in the mint family called Nepeta cataria. It's found in a vast number of products for cats. Research has yet to find evidence that catnip is harmful to kittens or cats — except a possibly upset tummy if they eat too much at once.
Because it's safe — and because most cats love it so much — it's often incorporated in cat toys. Manufacturers also use it on cat trees and scratching posts to inspire cats to utilize them more frequently! Catnip clearly has a hold on cats, as they absolutely love the stuff. But where did it even come from?
Where Does Catnip Come From?
The term "catnip" was believed to be adopted solely because of cats' love for the plant. The perennial herb is native to the Middle East, China, Europe, and Asia. It's part of the mint family, growing up to three feet tall and producing green-brown leaves. Its flowers bloom between late spring and autumn.
While the herb's rise in popularity is mostly due to cats' crazed reaction, Nepeta cataria was a useful garden crop before felines got their claws on it. It's drought-tolerant, deer resistant, and even deters mosquitos. The flowers also can attract butterflies. These traits have made catnip a great addition to many gardens!
How Many Types of Catnip Are There?
While there are many different species of catnip in the mint family, there are 5 in particular that are most popular. They all produce either white, pink, or purple blooms and range from 15 inches to over three feet in height. These species include:
- Persian or Eastern catmint, also called Nepeta racemosa or dwarf catnip
- Camphor catnip, or Nepeta camphorata
- Greek catnip, also called Nepeta parnassica
- True catnip, or Nepeta cataria
- Lemon catnip, also called Nepeta citriodora
Though catnip potency doesn't necessarily change much across species, well-maintained catnip plants are generally more potent than those that aren't. The leaves and flowers on catnip plants are much more potent than in other areas, like the stem. Regardless of potency, these plants all attract cats!
Fresh vs. Dried Catnip
Though they're similar, there is one main difference between fresh and dried catnip! Generally, fresh catnip is more potent than dried catnip. Since most cats react to the scent of catnip, fresher catnip will normally have a stronger effect. Other than that, both kinds of catnip should have the same kind of effect.
The History of Catnip
Catnip isn't native to North America. It came to the United States in the 18th century when English settlers set out to explore the New World. They brought along plants for food and medicinal purposes, including catnip. There is even a recipe written in 1712 in Massachusetts that calls for catnip!
Nepeta cataria was used to treat a wide variety of ailments. For many people, catnip worked as an excellent sedative. It was commonly used for children and was said to cure sleep problems, headaches, and even scabies. Native Americans believed the herb helped women with menstrual aches.
Some people even suspected that catnip made them more aggressive. This notion led to many boxers using catnip. They would chew the mint before a boxing match, believing it would help them defeat opponents.
While we don't use catnip for medicinal purposes anymore, it's still a popular plant for a feline. Kitty owners use it on their cat's toys, play areas, and even in their baths!
Why Do Cats Like Catnip?
What is it about catnip that cats find so irresistible? The nepetalactone! Nepetalactone is the active ingredient in catnip — it's an essential oil that enters your cat's nose or mouth when they interact with the plant. The compound is contained in microscopic bulbs found on the herb's leaves, stems, and seedpods.
When the bulb ruptures, it releases the nepetalactone into the air. Your cat triggers this process when they play with catnip by biting, rubbing, crushing, or even rolling in it. Once cats smell nepetalactone, it then binds to the receptors in their body. These receptors stimulate your cat's brain and olfactory bulb. From there, the olfactory bulb sends this information to multiple areas of the brain, including the amygdala.
This process triggers the amygdala, causing your cat's reaction, which is to respond emotionally. When the catnip's nepetalactone stimulates your cat's amygdala and pituitary gland, your cat might appear "high." But what happens to cats when they ingest catnip? Do they get high?
What Are the Effects of Catnip?
While it might be entertaining to say your cat is "high," catnip doesn't actually contain any THC. Despite the complete lack of THC, your cat might still appear under the influence because catnip's effects on your cat may make them act differently! Every cat responds differently to catnip. Some cats might get more energized, while others mellow out.
Some common side effects include:
- Licking the product
- Rubbing and rolling around on the product
- Become more vocal
- Rubbing their chin, cheeks, and body
- Jumping and running around in a hyper manner
- Excessive sniffing
- Appearing more relaxed
- Stretching on the floor
Does Catnip Affect All Cats the Same?
Not all cats react the same way to catnip. As mentioned earlier, some cats may become mellow and drooly, while others turn hyper and playful. But some felines don't even respond to catnip at all.
It's been found that about 75 percent of cats are receptive to nepetalactone, while the Humane Society reported that only 50 percent of cats react to catnip. A cat's response to catnip is hereditary, meaning it's genetically predetermined if your cat will develop a reaction to the 'nip or not.
How To Use Catnip
How you choose to use catnip depends on your cat's particular preferences. Every feline has their own favorite way to enjoy catnip — it's up to you to discover it! Here are some ways to use catnip effectively:
- Place catnip inside toys yourself. This can be as simple as dropping some 'nip inside jingly balls. You don't have to do surgery on a plush mouse!
- Rub catnip on a scratching post or cat tree to encourage them to use these products more often.
- Sprinkle catnip in cat carriers to help reduce anxiety during car trips or vet visits.
- Start actively growing it in an easily accessible spot so your cat can chew on it!
- Use catnip spray to coat cat trees, toys, and other surfaces to give them a catnip scent without the mess of leaves.
- Sprinkle catnip around a new home so your cat can get used to the room. Some people also use catnip to introduce two cats, but it's not advised since it's impossible to know how they will react to both things at once.
Catnip Products Made for Cats
Besides catnip itself, there are many products for cats that contain catnip or are catnip-infused. Some of these products may be more effective than others — you should be able to find most at your local pet store.
Specialty catnip products, like our CBD catnip spray, contain added ingredients to help improve your feline's overall wellbeing. Read on to learn more about different kinds of catnip products that you can try out at home with your cat!
Catnip Infused Toys
Did you know that you can purchase infused catnip toys? These already have catnip inside of them! Catnip toys are great because they're usually a lot cleaner than toys that involve loose catnip, which may get all over your cat and floor (unless you have a particularly destructive cat).
This spray is a concentrated, oil version of catnip. To help your cat feel its effects, you can spray it on your cat's belongings. Try adding it to toys, any furniture that belongs to them (like scratching posts or trees), or on their favorite blanket.
CBD Catnip Spray
If you want to take the experience up a notch, you can try CBD catnip spray to give your cat fun times with the additional soothing benefits of cannabidiol for cats. And, like catnip, CBD won't get your cat high!
CBD can help:
- Provide relief from general aches or soreness
- Stimulate your cat's appetite
- Promote proper digestion
- Soothe an upset stomach
- Boost their mood
- Relax your cat
- Improve sleep cycles
- And more!
A catnip ball is a small sphere of 100% pure, compressed catnip. Catnip balls are usually fully digestible and don't normally contain any additives. You can use a catnip ball by breaking a small chunk off it and crushing it up into a paper bag ball for your cat to play with. Alternatively, you can let your cat lick the catnip ball directly. Just remember to put it away once playtime is over!
Catnip bubbles are exactly what they sound like — bubbles infused with catnip! If your cat likes to chase bubbles, this is a fun and pretty way to play with your cat and help them experience the effects of catnip.
How Much Catnip Should I Give My Cat?
When a cat has had enough catnip, they usually stop eating or sniffing it themselves. Though they instinctively know when they've had enough catnip, their bodies also become less receptive to catnip after they're exposed to it for long enough. After the effects of catnip have worn off, cats usually won't be receptive to catnip again for at least 30 minutes up to a few hours. By then, it's likely your cat has already lost interest in the catnip for the day.
When your cat is done playing with catnip, it's crucial to store it correctly. It loses potency over time, meaning its effects on your cat won't be as intense or noticeable. Try putting leftover catnip in something airtight, like a container or bag, and place it in the freezer. This will keep it fresh (and stronger) for longer!
How Long Does Catnip Last?
Since all cats react to the nepetalactone in catnip differently, it's impossible to know how long your cat will be under the herb's influence. The average length of time that you'll notice your cat behaving differently is 5-10 minutes.
After that time frame, the effects will wear off. In a sense, your cat then becomes "immune" to the nepetalactone. For at least one to two hours following their catnip session, your cat won't be able to feel the effects of catnip again.
Is Catnip Safe for Senior Cats?
Catnip is safe for older cats as long as they're healthy. If your elderly cats have any nervous disorders or are on any medications, you should reach out to your vet before administering any catnip or catnip toys.
Can Kittens Have Catnip?
It's safe to give young kittens catnip, but it might not have the results you expect. You might predict kittens will get even more playful when they encounter catnip, but they usually don't have any reaction at all!
Remember how the cat's amygdala and pituitary gland must be stimulated for cats to react? The pituitary gland controls the activity of most other hormone-secreting glands. Since the catnip's pathway to the brain is partially hormonal, cats won't react to catnip until they have reached sexual maturity. That's about six months old. You'll have to wait a bit longer to find out if your kitten loves catnip!
Final Thoughts — Why Do Cats Like Catnip?
Most cats love catnip because the nepetalactone in the herb stimulates their brain. It makes them feel good — and leaves them wanting more! That's why you'll see them licking it off the floor or rolling around in it.
Luckily, catnip has no negative side effects, meaning it's a-okay to let your cat enjoy the plant in the safety of your home. For some feline friends, it makes them feel chill and relaxed. For other cats, they want nothing more than to race around the house after they lick some up.
Spray some catnip on their favorite scratching post. Sprinkle some dried catnip leaves on their toys. Then watch your cat go bananas as they lick, roll, jump about, and drool. Felines might enjoy catnip, but we enjoy watching them on catnip even more!