Why do cats love catnip?

Written by Dr. Colleen Fisher  | Published on: 5/23/2021


Although catnip doesn’t work on every cat, and its effects don’t last very long, about 80% of cats show their love for catnip in strange ways – rubbing against it, rolling around it in, pawing at it, and generally acting weird! If this sound like your cat, keep reading to find out why the herb makes your cat meow.

Feline olfactory enrichment

Cats possess an acute sense of smell. Giving cats the opportunity to seek, sniff, stalk, and pounce on prey – whether that prey is a furry toy, feathery wand, or a crumpled ball of paper – contributes to both physical and emotional well-being. Offering the scent benefits of catnip during hunting play promotes positive emotions and decrease stress for many cats.
  • Cats will sniff, lick, or chew on catnip to elicit behaviour effects like drooling, cheek- and chin-rubbing against the herb or herb-infused toys, head shaking, body rolling, and back rubbing. Some cats may become very meowy and yowly.
  • Cats tend to react in two ways: some become pretty mellow while others appear hyper-reactive or irritable.
  • The effects only last for about 10 minutes. Give the cat a break and offer more catnip in half an hour or so.

Catnip trivia – everything your cat wants you to know about catnip

  1. Reaction to catnip is hereditary. The response is based on an autosomal dominant genetic trait observed in more than 70-80% of cats. Cats without these genes are not affected by exposure to the herb.
  2. Domestic cats aren’t the only ones who enjoy catnip. Lions, cougars, and leopards have been known to react to catnip. Tigers do not.
  3. Catnip acts like an artificial kitty pheromone. Nepetalactone, the active volatile oil, stimulates sensory nerves in nasal tissues and the behaviour centers of the feline brain to mimic mating displays and behaviours.
  4. Kittens may not exhibit catnip behaviour. Development of the olfactory and emotional areas of the brain as a young cat approaches sexual maturity is necessary before cats show the typical behaviours.
  5. Older cats may no longer show a response. Whether there are changes to the way cats detect odours or changes within the brain itself, the effects of catnip seem to lessen as cats become seniors.

Catnip is non-toxic and non-addicting

Catnip can be an important addition to a cat’s indoor environment and playtime. The herb, either dried or as a spray, can be used on a regular basis or as a special treat. Fresh catnip can even be grown outdoors or in the home. Cats should be monitored for eating excess green plant, as it may cause vomiting and diarrhea in sensitive individuals.

If you’re looking for an alternatives to catnip, try other natural products such as silver vine and honeysuckle to promote healthy exercise and overall feline well-being.

If your cat accidentally ingests anything harmful, call your vet immediately.

Petsecure can help with the cost of the vet visit. Learn what’s covered by Petsecure and get a quote today.