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Why Do Cats Like Catnip?

Est. read time: 7 min.

Who’s that romping, rolling, and dashing around the house? Why, it’s your cat on catnip! If you’ve ever witnessed how a feline behaves when there’s catnip nearby, then you know what we’re talking about. But why do cats like catnip so much?

The simple reason is that the leaves and stems of catnip have a certain scent that stimulates special receptors in a cat’s brain when they smell catnip. In most cases, catnip results in a sense of euphoria or overwhelming happiness for cats. 

Catnip is a great treat that is sure to excite your feline friend every time they get a whiff of it. But let’s take a closer look at what catnip is and what exactly it does!  

What is catnip and what does it do?

Maine Coon cat sniffing catnip buds - why do cats like catnip?

Catnip is a plant that is part of the mint family and contains an oil that is known as nepetalactone. When cats smell nepetalactone, a chemical response is produced in their brains.

This causes pheromones to be released, which ultimately make your cat feel really, really good! Catnip can be given to your cat in many forms, from fresh and dried catnip to catnip sprays and catnip toys

Different cats elicit different reactions to catnip, meaning not all cats are affected by the substance in similar manners. Some cats are affected by catnip in a way where one whiff of the scent will target receptors in their brain, often making them act happy, hyper, and goofy. 

When other cats eat catnip, the substance will elicit a more sedative response, causing these cats to mellow out, roll around, zone out, and rub themselves against objects. The sedative mood will usually last about ten minutes, and after that, your cat will likely go right back to their normal self again. 

Not all cats respond

Surprisingly, it’s estimated that 30%-50% of cats lack the gene that makes them react to catnip. If your cat does possess the gene, it will only come to fruition between 3-6 months of age; a kitten any younger may show no signs, one way or the other. If your adult cat does not react to catnip, he or she may enjoy silver vine or a toy with valerian roots instead.

Top 5 reasons why cats love catnip

So, why do cats go crazy over catnip? Cats enjoy the plant for many reasons, in addition to the euphoric feeling it causes. When a cat has a positive response to catnip, the plant-based substance can reduce anxiety, act as a pain reliever, and help with aggression problems. Here are the top 5 reasons why your cat loves catnip! 

Reduces anxiety 

Since catnip relaxes cats when ingested, it can lower anxiety and reduce nervousness. The way catnip minimizes anxiety makes it a great tool for reducing anxiety caused by separation, changes in the environment, or trips to the vet.

Produces a feeling of euphoria

Cats have an extra scent organ known as the vomeronasal gland that can be found at the roof of their mouths. This unique pathway allows the scents that cats smell with their noses to reach the brain. So, when cats smell catnip, the nepetalactone registers as happy pheromones, which make cats feel playful, merry, and affectionate.  

Relaxes and soothes

Catnip sometimes acts as a sedative. With most cats, it will produce a soothing sensation when ingested, allowing your cat to relax and enjoy the day. It can be helpful for younger cats that tend to stay up all night meowing or trying to play. Catnip is also a great way to calm aggressive cats.

Provides medicinal uses

Catnip can be used as a temporary pain reliever in cats, similar to the effects of aspirin. (But don’t give aspirin to your cat!) Catnip can also be used as an anti-inflammatory tool that can reduce swelling, rashes, and skin irritation. You can implement it as a digestive aid if your cat has upset stomach, as well.

Mimics feline sex hormones

When your cat smells catnip, the substance produces a response that mimics feline sex hormones. Cats will often behave similarly to how female cats in heat act. Both female and male cats can experience this effect. 

What happens to cats when you give them catnip?

When you give catnip to cats, normal behavior includes rolling around, playing, meowing, zoning out, relaxing, expressing happiness, and showing signs of affection. The effects of catnip usually last 10-30 minutes on average. 

After administering catnip, give your cat a fun place to play and explore, like a cat tower. Sprinkle catnip or spray your cat tower with catnip. From there, get ready to watch your feline play, roll around, and relax. 

Some cats may not respond well to catnip, and they might display signs of aggression. If you notice your cat becoming aggressive when you feed them catnip, it’s best to avoid giving them the substance altogether. 

Is there such a thing as too much catnip for a cat?

It’s important to know that it is possible to give your cat too much catnip. While it won’t lead to extreme illness or death, it can still cause your cat to get sick. If a cat ingests too much catnip, they may experience diarrhea or vomiting. 

In general, your cat will probably know when they have had enough catnip and will likely stop consuming it on their own instead of making themselves sick. Keep in mind that catnip should only be given as a treat, not on a regular basis. 

If you give your cat too much catnip, their bodies will start to acclimate and their tolerances will skyrocket. So, it’s best to keep it at a minimum so that the effects don’t become minimal over time. 

The best ways for your cat to enjoy catnip 

Cats need to have their own space to relax, play, and enjoy their catnip. When you get a cat pyramid from Litter-Robot, you’ll have the perfect piece of cat climbing furniture for your feline friend to chill out without anxiety. It also offers a safe space for them to be goofy and playful. 

Don’t have the space for a cat pyramid but still want to give your cats a place where they can enjoy their catnip? Cat shelves are just what you need. Sprinkles the shelves with dried catnip, spray them with a liquid form of catnip, or put a catnip-filled toy on them.

From there, just step back and let your cat go to town. Your kitty will be able to jump, zone out, and nap without you having to worry about tripping over them while they’re sprawled out on the floor!

Why do cats go crazy over catnip?

Catnip is a plant from the mint family that contains an oil called nepetalactone. When cats smell nepetalactone, it produces a chemical response and releases pheromones that give your cat a euphoric and relaxing feeling.

How much catnip should I get my cat?

It’s always a good idea to read the directions on catnip products when it comes to better understanding proper dosing amounts. You can also ask your vet what they would recommend for your cat.

Can catnip make cats aggressive?

Yes, some cats may show signs of aggression, especially when approached. If your cat exhibits aggressive behavior in response to catnip, it’s probably best to avoid giving catnip to your cat altogether.


Maine Coon cat sniffing catnip buds - why do cats like catnip?


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