What Does Catnip Do To A Cat?

Read about catnip (Nepeta cataria), a common herb, member of the mint family. Easy to grow, it has feathery, light green leaves and lavender flowers. For humans, catnip leaves can be made into tea, and the flowers supposedly alleviate coughs. But what does catnip do to a cat?

Cats have special built-in equipment that allows them to respond to catnip. Kitty has an extra scentgrey cat sniffing catnip plant organ called the vomeronasal gland in the roof of the mouth. When the cat smells catnip, the message from the scent gets carried to the brain. The oil in the catnip, called nepetalactone, found in the plant’s leaves, can cause cats to experience behavior changes.

These changes, which come about when the cat smells the leaves, include signs of affection, relaxation, and overall happiness. Some cats can display active behaviors, including playfulness or even aggression.

If the cat has a positive experience with the plant, it can help reduce anxiety or even relieve pain. If you plan to leave for a time, leave a good supply of catnip behind for the cat, as the herb can help relieve separation anxiety.

Not all cats respond to catnip. There is evidence that how the cat reacts to the herb is based on genetics. Studies suggest that about 60% of all cats will have a behavioral reaction.

How Long Does The Effect Last?

The effect will vary from cat to cat, though usually, their “catnip behavior” will only last for around ten minutes. Then it gradually wears off, and it could take up to 30 minutes without the catnip for the cat to respond again.

To maintain potency, keep catnip in an airtight container. It also helps to store the extra supply of the herb in the freezer.

Is Catnip Safe For Kittens?

This herb, so much loved by cats, will not harm kittens, though most of the time they won’t react to the plant until they are six months to a year of age.

It seems one can always find exceptions, and the sensitivity to the plant can slowly increase over time.

What If The Cat Eats Catnip?

It won’t hurt the cat to ingest a bit. In fact, it could be helpful for the digestive tract. My Carlos preferred to eat his catnip; then he would be quite mellow for a time.

I used to grow catnip in Kodiak, and one of my two black cats, Loose Cat, used to love to eat the Grey cat, lying down, holding catnip plantfresh leaves. He’d eat just a few, then settle into the “cat meatloaf” pose and become catatonic for a time.

On the other hand, I had to hide newly grown plants from his brother, Uptight Cat, because he would eat the whole plant to the ground. Perhaps, being the more anxious cat, he needed more of it to settle him down.

Can Too Much Catnip Be Harmful?

Fortunately, Uptight Cat never seemed to experience any negative health problems from eating a whole plant — and just as fortunately, he didn’t ingest that much very often.

Too much can cause health problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, or difficulty walking. Benjamin Franklin had it right — everything in moderation — and that includes how much catnip you give the cat.

Ways To Provide Your Cat With His “Kitty High”

You can obtain catnip in many forms. First of all, you might try growing your own plant.

In Kodiak, for a time I had a small bed of catnip growing at the end of my house. It didn’t take long for the neighborhood cats to find it, and I might discover them lolling in the sun next to the plants, much like a person who has a few too many and just wants to lie down and rest for a while.

You can purchase dried catnip and give it to your cat. You can stuff some of it in a toy — try putting a good portion in the end of an old sock and tying it off securely. Or, you can buy toys already stuffed with the herb. Many cats love these.

Catnip sprays, which are not as potent as the herb itself, can prove helpful if your cat gets an upset stomach from eating the plant. Spray your cat’s favorite toy or perhaps his cat scratching post.

Also, besides sprinkling it on his scratching post, spread a little dried catnip on his cat tree. My cat, Pogo, will come and ask me for catnip for his cardboard scratcher. I sprinkle it along the top edge, and Pogo rubs his cheeks against it in obvious pleasure.

Links to some catnip products that you can purchase appear at the end of this post.

Why Does Catnip Work?

The nepetalactone oil in the plant mimics feline sex hormones. Watch your cat — male or female, the animal will often display behaviors which are similar to a female cat in heat.

Smelling the catnip causes the replication of pheromones that then switch on feline receptors. These cause neuron light bulbs to flash in the cat’s brain.

This reaction is similar to that a human gets from trying LSD or smoking marijuana. Kitty’s high does not last long, though — usually for little more than 10 minutes. Then it takes about a half-hour for the catnip sensors to be reset.grey tiger cat rolling in catnip

We can often gain as much pleasure from the catnip just by watching our cat’s reaction. I used to enjoy the antics of my big black Spruce Island cat, Sam, when we all lived on my homestead.

I had a small round cake pan, and would sprinkle some catnip in it. That large cat tried his best to roll in that pan. Of course, he didn’t fit, but he always tried. He had better luck when the catnip spilled out on the floor.

I hope you enjoyed the YouTube videos included with this post. There are more available, if you choose to watch them. What funny little creatures! When we watch them, their pleasure becomes contagious, and we gain pleasure as well.

References I used for this post were as follows:




If you would like to purchase some good catnip products, check the offers below from chewy.com. Just click on the blue-highlighted product name or the blue caption under the product image, and you will be whisked away to Chewy, where you can select the items you want for your cat. Kitty will be delighted, I’m sure.

Chewy’s shipping policy: You will receive one to three-day free shipping if your order is $49.00 or more.

2.25 oz jar of catnip
OurPets Cosmic Catnip

OurPets Cosmic Catnip

by OurPets

2.25-ounce jar

Price: $8.22



Fresh catnip
Van Ness Catnip

Van Ness Fresh Nip Totally Natural Catnip

by Van Ness

1-ounce bag

Price: $3.69


Catnip spray
Catnip Spray

Kong Natural Catnip Spray

by Kong

1 ounce (Made in North America; steam distilled)

Price: $6.19


Roller toy
Roller Cat Scratcher

Creative Kitty Roller Cat Scratcher

by C & H Pet Products

Toy with catnip: 3-count

Price: $28.22


catnip sardines
Catnip Sardines

Yeowww! Stinkies Catnip Sardines, 3-c0unt

by Yeowww!

Price: $9.89

4 thoughts on “What Does Catnip Do To A Cat?”

    • Yes, cats don’t care how much a toy costs. If they think it’s fun, that is all that is important. My cat has a basket full of toys, but he has a few that are his favorites. Mostly, they are the simple ones. If you can make something the cat likes, all the better.


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