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What Is Catnip, and How Does It Affect Your Cat?

Health and Wellbeing

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Nepeta cataria or Catnip as it is more commonly known, is a perennial herb of the mint family. It is native to Europe and is an import to the United States and other countries. The catnip plant is now a widespread weed in North America and around the world.

Catnip is well known for its dramatic behavioural effect it has on cats, which can be described as "feline euphoria". Approximately two thirds of cats are susceptible to the behavioural effects of catnip, as the phenomenon is hereditary.

What happens to a cat when they have catnip?

Although no one knows exactly what happens in the cat's brain, it is known that the chemical nepetalactone in catnip is the thing that triggers the response. Catnip pleasantly stimulates cats pheromonic receptor and when they sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip, they may roll over it, paw at it, chew it, lick it, leap about and purr, often salivating copiously. Some cats will also growl and meow.

This reaction only lasts for a few minutes before the cat loses interest. It takes up to two hours for the cat to "reset" after which it can come back to the catnip and have the same response as before. Young kittens and older cats are less likely to have a reaction to catnip. Lions and tigers are also sensitive to the effects of catnip.

Because there really isn't any scent that causes this sort of reaction in humans, catnip is hard for us to understand. However, it is not an uncommon behaviour in animals that rely heavily on their noses. For example, there are many scents that will trigger intense hunting behaviour in dogs, and other scents will cause dogs to stop in their tracks and roll all over the scent.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no "drug-like" effect from catnip, only emotional release which is healthy for your cats or kittens.

Where can I find catnip?

Catnip is widely available in pet stores and vet clinics. It comes in a variety of forms including sprays, dried, treats and even infused into toys. Catnip can also be used as an effective training tool by luring your cat to particular objects. For example, spraying your cat scratching pole or sprinkling the dried herb into their cardboard scratch pad will attract them to perform 'legal scratching', rather than shredding the couch! has a large range of catnip products to give your cat that feel good 'kitty high'!