Do You Know Why Do Cats React to Catnip?

Silhouette of black cat

Catnip (Nepeta catarea) is a perennial herb, a member of the mint family.  It is safe for cats. The plant is native to Europe, Africa, and Asia, but once it was imported to the United States, it was found to grow well here, too.

The plant contains a chemical, nepetalactone, which is found in the leaves and stem.  The chemical gives cats a sense of euphoria when they sniff it, similar to the human reaction to marijuana.  Not all cats, however, are sensitive to catnip, though it is estimated that 50 to 75% of them will react to the plant.  The sensitivity is inherited.  When they are kittens, the chemical does not affect them.  Usually, the kitten has to be several months old before it will react to catnip.


Black cat with eyes with "catnip look"
Catnip eyes

A cat has two reactions to catnip.  If he just sniffs the plant, it will act as a stimulant.  Often the cat gets a bit crazy after sniffing it, giving you serious cause for laughter.  Look at the cat’s eyes.  They may seem to take on an otherworldly gleam when the cat is high on that lovely herb.

I had a cat who loved catnip, going to great lengths to enjoy it.  I used to sprinkle some of it, loose, in a round metal cake pan.  Even though the cat was much bigger than that round pan, he did his best to roll in the catnip.  A goodly amount of the cat would hang over the sides of the pan, but nevertheless, he tried his best to fit in there. Once he managed to get a good quantity on his fur, he could enjoy it for quite some time afterwards.

If a cat eats the plant, it acts as a sedative.  When I lived in Kodiak, for a time I had a

Cat at rest
Cat in Meatloaf Position

large catnip plant inside the house for the cat’s winter enjoyment.  One of my cats would eat only a couple of leaves off the plant.  Then he would hunker down into that position that made him look like a big meatloaf, and he’d go into a “cat-atonic” state for a few hours.


It is suggested that you give your feline a serving of catnip once every two to three weeks, so the use will not become habitual.  His system can become used to the plant, and he will no longer respond.  Be aware that his “buzz” only lasts about 10 to 15 minutes.  Then he has to wait a few hours before the catnip again affects him.

Two cats leaping high after toy
A catnip high?

Though catnip will not harm your cat, he can overdose.  You will know he’s had too much kitty drug if he vomits or has a bout of diarrhea after his sniff session.  Don’t worry — he will get over it soon.  Personally, I have never seen one of my cats O.D. on catnip, but my research showed that it could happen.


Yes, catnip has uses for humans, too.  It can be consumed as a calming tea to help ease nausea and headaches.  For humans, it also has some sedative properties.  And, here’s another good thing to know:  Catnip is a potent mosquito repellant.

The information for this post came from a post written by Dr. Jennifer Coates for the internet site, www.PetMed. Thank you, Dr. Coates, for this helpful article.

Catnip for cats is an interesting subject to me, so if you have questions or comments, please list them below, and I will either answer them or find someone who can.  I hope to hear from you.


7 thoughts on “Do You Know Why Do Cats React to Catnip?”

  1. Cat-a-tonic, that’s rich! I love this article, I never really considered if catnip was bad for cats. having some insight there really helps. Sadly my wife is allergic to cats so we left all the cats behind. But still a great article

    • You are welcome to visit and get a vicarious cat experience here at my website, any time. Thanks so much for your comment. I am so sorry your cats had to be left behind… and sorry your wife is unfairly deprived of their magical company. They are certainly fascinating animals.

  2. This has been a question I have wondered about for a long time but never looked deeper. Very interesting article and I was relieved to find out I was not giving my cat something bad for her. (all things in moderation – 🙂
    This article did answer my long held question. In the past I have purchased a catnip filled toys, is this a good idea or should we just stick to loose leaf? I guess I should hide it between play sessions to avoid over exposure of tolerance sets in. What do you think?

    I just found your site and I like what I have seen so far lots of interesting articles.

    Thank you,


    • As I just wrote in the last comment, loose leaf is probably the one you should use less frequently. Catnip toys will hold the cat’s interest for a time, and then he will move on to something else. I left my cat’s toys filled with catnip out all the time, and he used them with moderation. He most likely knows his limits. I for one found it interesting when I researched, that a cat could “overdose” and get nauseated or have a bout of diarrhea. I have never had one of my cats react that way. Thanks so much for your comments, Doug, and I do hope you will come back often. When you do, please leave your comments — I love to read people’s comments about cats.

  3. What is the recommended dose amount? Should I be using the bags that it comes in or should I try to cut it out when I buy it that way?

    You said that it was alright for people to have. I am allergic to marijuana. Can I still have catnip near me?

    • The first question: I never measure. When feeding the cat some catnip, I just put a little bit (couple of tablespoons at most or you will have a real mess) in a bowl, or on the floor. The cat will eat it or roll in it and then probably get wild-eyed crazy for a little while. Give a generous amount once, then wait for a few days before giving more. If the cat has a catnip mouse, you don’t have to take it away from him. He’ll play with it for awhile and then leave it. He probably knows his limits better than we do.

      I would say that you would have no problem with catnip, because it is not from the same plant family as marijuana, but rather, from the mint family. Unless you are allergic to spearmint or peppermint, for example, you should be fine with catnip. Also, it has nowhere near as strong a reaction with humans. It’s more like drinking chamomile tea…it is just relaxing.

  4. Glad you like it, Linda. Hope you visit more than once. I put a new article or two up every week. I see you have a blog site. Will have to check it out.


Leave a Comment