What Does Catnip Do To Cats? Why Do They Love It?

What does catnip do to cats that makes them go crazy? They take a few sniffs and puff! Away goes the moody arrogance from felines. One may even say cats look under the influence of something not so legal. And, well, you might be correct there, except for the legality of the thing. We’ll explain!

About 70 to 80% of cats react to catnip, so it’s safe to say it is very likely your little buddy is one of them. Their reaction can go from a friendly mood to completely bananas with one little sniff! 🙀 What does catnip do to cats, you wonder? It gives them a bit of fun! And yes, you will be dealing with a stoned cat for some minutes. But there’s nothing to worry about – and we’ll tell you why!

What is catnip?

what does catnip do to cats what is catnip

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a perennial herb belonging to the mint family. Originally from Europe and Asia, it can now be found everywhere around the globe.

Catnip is frequently used in relaxing supplements for humans, having the same soothing effect as chamomile, for instance. However, its fame comes from the reactions it triggers on cats. In fact, this plant has since long been associated with felines, as its scientific name shows. Cataria derives from Latin and it means “of a cat”. 🐈

It should not be confused with cat grass, another kind of plant which produces different reactions on felines. If you want to know more about cat grass, check “Cat Grass: Everything You Need To Know?”.

What does catnip do to cats?

Catnip can trigger several different reactions from felines. Some are completely indifferent to it, others will just get curious and perhaps friendlier and some may go nuts for it.

So, what does catnip do to cats to make a big group of them go crazy for it? Well, it basically makes them “high”! ✨

Catnip has a chemical compound called nepetalactone, which can be found in its leaves and stems. When a cat sniffs this compound, it produces a similar effect as marijuana and LSD on humans. Their trip only lasts around 10 to 15 minutes, during which they can present different funny symptoms. Some cats will roll around hugging the catnip, they may start licking or biting it, or just acting generally euphoric. Drooling is also very common!

If catnip is ingested, however, it works as a sedative, leaving cats mellow and sleepy.

Why do they love it?

No, they are not junkies looking for a buzz. They just can’t avoid it.

When sniffed, the nepetalactone stimulates their sensory neurons. These cells then provoke a response in the olfactory bulb, which in turn will send the message to different brain regions. Among these are the amygdala and the hypothalamus, both of which play a role in mediating emotional responses. Here, the nepetalactone is interpreted as a sexual stimulus, prompting a sexual response – albeit different from usual!

Basically, this chemical compound of catnip works as an artificial pheromone to cats.

Why does catnip only work with some cats?

what does catnip do to cats doesn't work

Some felines act with indifference towards catnip or don’t react at all. What does catnip do to cats like that, then? Well, nothing. ❌

The reaction to catnip is inherited. If your little buddy’s parents didn’t react to it, neither will them.

Kittens are also immune to the effects of catnip. However, if they inherited the reaction they will start showing those funny symptoms as they grow older.

Is it safe?

Despite having a similar effect as drugs, catnip is completely safe for cats. 🐱✔️

The symptoms will only last between 10 and 15 minutes, and then your little companion will get back to normal. Catnip doesn’t cause addiction, and if you leave it around for some time your feline will get used to the smell and grow indifferent to it.

However, cats who like to eat catnip may experience some vomits and diarrhoea if the amount is too much. These symptoms are usually mild and self limiting, though if your tiny tiger tends to have a feast with catnip, just avoid it.

As mentioned before, catnip changes the mental state of felines – and instead of having a relaxing effect, it might lead to aggressiveness and anxiety. That’s why it’s usually not recommended to already belligerent cats.
The veterinary community still lacks more thorough studies about catnip’s side effects, but considering that it is known to increase the susceptibility for mice to have seizures, you should never use it if your cat has epilepsy!

What does catnip do to cats, then? It gives them a chance to relax and just go crazy for a bit. Even the most stuck up cat needs to go bananas once in a while, right? And given that it is completely safe, why not give your pal a sniff of catnip every now and then? They will love it and you will have fun watching them rolling around. Win-win! ✌