What Does Catnip Do To Cats? The Magic Behind Your Cat’s Behavior

Cat Behavior, Cats

Last Updated - July 12, 2024

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Cats are fascinating creatures, each with their unique quirks and behaviors that never cease to amaze us. One of the most mysterious and entertaining of these behaviors is cats' reaction to a seemingly innocuous plant: catnip! As a cat owner, you've probably observed the rolling, purring, and playful behavior that often ensues when cats interact with catnip.

However, what is catnip, and why does it significantly impact our feline companions? This blog post will explore the intriguing world of catnip, its origins, its impact on cats, and its potential benefits.

What Is Catnip?

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is an herbaceous plant belonging to the mint family. This fragrant herb is originally from Europe and Asia but has also become naturalized in North America. The catnip plant is renowned for its unique properties, particularly its strong attraction to cats.

The catnip plant produces fragrant leaves and small white or lavender flowers that are visually appealing to humans and cats. When it comes to feline fascination, it's the fresh catnip leaves and stems that steal the spotlight. These parts of the plant contain a compound known as nepetalactone, which is the primary responsible factor for catnip's unique effects on cats.

When cats are exposed to catnip, they may display a range of behaviors, including sniffing, rubbing, rolling, purring, and engaging in playful activities. This behavior can intensify their reaction and is often accompanied by increased drooling. It's almost like they enter a state of euphoria, often likened to a "catnip high." Cats react to catnip in varying ways, and not every cat is affected by catnip, as their response is hereditary. Approximately 50-70% of cats are sensitive to its allure. It's essential to ensure the catnip is safe for consumption if your cat decides to nibble on it. While cats eat catnip on occasion, it's usually a small amount and typically not harmful.

While catnip can be a source of endless entertainment for our feline companions, it also has practical uses. Some cat owners use this member of the mint family to encourage their cats to use a scratching post or cardboard scratcher or to reduce anxiety in stressful situations.

What Does Catnip Do To Cats?

Dried catnip, often used in catnip toys or sprinkled on a scratching post, has a fascinating effect on most cats. Different cats respond differently. Not all cats behave the same when they encounter catnip. Some experience a euphoric reaction, while others are indifferent. Here's what happens when a cat interacts with catnip:

Sniffing and Investigating

Cats are naturally curious creatures, and their initial interaction with catnip often involves a thorough investigation. They use their keen sense of smell to detect the aroma of the catnip and their whiskers and paws to explore its texture. This initial curiosity is just the beginning of their journey into the world of catnip-induced fun.

Rolling and Playfulness

One of the most entertaining and distinctive reactions to catnip is the burst of playfulness many cats experience. They may roll on the catnip-infused object or surface, bat at it with their paws, and engage in exaggerated and amusing play behaviors. This playful behavior often mimics the antics of kittens, making it a delight to watch.

Purring and Vocalization

As cats become more engrossed in their catnip encounter, they may start purring loudly or even vocalize with meows, chirps, or other unusual sounds. This vocalization can vary from one cat to another, adding a unique dimension to their catnip-induced state.

Licking and Chewing

Some cats take their interaction with catnip a step further by licking or even chewing on the catnip if it's provided in a fresh form. This behavior can intensify their reaction and is often accompanied by increased drooling. It's essential to ensure the catnip is safe for consumption if your cat decides to nibble on it.

Temporary Bliss

The impact of a cat's "high" induced by the active compound in catnip is brief, usually lasting 10-15 minutes. As the effects wear off, cats gradually return to their normal behavior. This temporary nature adds an element of novelty and excitement to catnip playtime.

Indifference in Some Cats

It's important to acknowledge that not all cats are responsive to catnip. Approximately half to two-thirds of cats are sensitive to catnip's effects and have a positive experience, while the rest remain indifferent. The response to catnip is hereditary, so if your cat doesn't react, don't be alarmed—it's entirely normal.

Social Interactions

Catnip can sometimes lead to enhanced social interactions between cats. Cats that are under the influence of catnip may seek out playmates and engage in friendly interactions such as chasing, wrestling, or even grooming. This can create enjoyable bonding moments among cats in a multi-cat household. However, it's important to know your individual cat and be mindful of your cat's environment. While some cats can be more social as they react to catnip, other cats can become hyperactive or aggressive toward you or other pets.

How To Introduce Catnip To Your Cat

You can go about introducing catnip to your pet in many different ways. Here are some to give your cat catnip:

Dried Catnip

If you have dried catnip leaves or buds, you can use them in multiple ways. Sprinkle a small amount on the floor or on a play surface where your cat can interact with it directly. Alternatively, you can buy dried catnip to use to refill toys or scratching posts, keeping your cat's playthings fresh and enticing.

Catnip Toys

Catnip-infused toys are readily available and convenient for playtime. These toys often contain a pouch or compartment where you can place dried catnip. Alternatively, you can purchase catnip-stuffed toys that are designed to engage your cat in play. The interaction with these toys can be a great way for your cat to experience the catnip effects.

Catnip Spray

Catnip spray is a versatile option. It allows you to apply catnip essential oil to various surfaces and objects. You can use catnip spray on scratching posts, bedding, or cat toys to create an enticing environment for your cat. Spritz a small amount and let it air dry before introducing your cat to the area.

Catnip-Infused Treats

Catnip-infused treats combine the pleasure of a tasty reward with the playful stimulation of catnip. These treats are uniquely designed to offer a delightful flavor while incorporating a gentle amount of catnip. They can be a delightful way to incorporate catnip into your cat's diet while offering them a delicious incentive for good behavior.

Fresh Catnip

For those with a green thumb, growing a fresh catnip plant at home is an excellent way to offer your cat a live and interactive catnip experience. Catnip plants are visually appealing to cats, and many cats enjoy sniffing, chewing, or rolling on the live leaves. Verifying that the plant is secure and pesticide-free when allowing your cat to engage with it is essential.

Can Cats Overdose On Catnip?

In general, catnip is non-toxic and safe for cats, and they usually self-regulate their consumption. Nevertheless, it's possible for a cat to overindulge. If given excessive catnip, a cat may exhibit hyperactivity, restlessness, or digestive upset symptoms. Using catnip in moderation is essential. Prolonged exposure can lead to desensitization, causing the cat to become less responsive to its effects over time.

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About the Author

Doctor of veterinary medicine with extensive experience in animal welfare with a strong interest in feline medicine and plans to pursue ABVP-Feline specialty board certification. A key member of many local veterinary associations and avid reader of animal related science journals and studies.