The Secret Ingredient – Why Does Catnip Drive Cats Wild?

Catnip has a mysterious attraction to cats worldwide. It is known to make them go crazy, often resulting in some hilarious behavior that looks like something out of a cartoon. Watching cats chasing, biting, rubbing or rolling in the plant is quite amusing, and often raises the question: What is in catnip that makes cats go crazy?

Let’s explore the secret ingredient behind catnip and why it drives cats wild.

What is catnip?

Catnip is a perennial herb that originates from the mint family Labiatae. It is native to Europe and Asia but has now become naturalized across North America.

The scientific name for catnip is Nepeta cataria, and it has been used in traditional medicine for centuries due to its anti-inflammatory, sedative, and antispasmodic properties.

However, the most compelling use of catnip is its effect on cats, which is quite different from that of humans. While it may have a calming effect on us, catnip has the opposite effect on our feline friends, which can be quite amusing to observe.

Why do cats love catnip?

The secret behind catnip and why it drives cats wild is due to the presence of a compound called nepetalactone.

Nepetalactone is an organic compound that is found in the essential oil of catnip. When cats smell or consume catnip, nepetalactone enters their nasal tissues and binds to their olfactory receptors. This binding process triggers a response from their brain, leading to a series of physiological and behavioral changes.

What happens when cats eat catnip?

Cats who consume catnip tend to get more intense reactions than when they just smell it. They may rub their face on the catnip, drool, and even develop slight aggression toward other cats or objects. Sometimes, they will roll, flip or scratch the area where the catnip was present, often followed by a period of lethargy.

As crazy as this might seem to us, these behaviors are a natural reaction to the compound nepetalactone which puts cats in a state of euphoria.

What happens when cats smell catnip?

Cats that smell catnip will often start rubbing their nose, chin, and cheeks on the plant. This is called ‘head pressing,’ and it’s a way of stimulating the release of scent molecules, which intensifies their attraction to the plant. After an initial reaction, the cats may show more moderate behavior towards the plant, such as rolling around, meowing, or becoming more relaxed.

Not all cats respond to catnip in the same way, and some may even show indifference to it. However, for the vast majority of cats, the plant has a significant impact on their behavior.

How does catnip affect cats?

Nepetalactone in catnip has a similar structure to pheromones which can trigger sexual responses in cats, which is why many people believe it might have a significant effect on the feline reproductive system.

However, this is not proven yet, and it might have no impact at all. What is known is that cats respond to catnip like young kittens given the chance to play with a stimulating toy.

When cats are exposed to catnip, it can stimulate their playfulness, and they are likely to demonstrate “silly” behavior, often for a short period. The behavior can be anything from running around and darting about to biting, licking, and even drooling. But most commonly, the effect of catnip is relaxation or drowsiness, with cats often taking long naps afterward.

Is catnip safe for cats?

Yes, catnip is safe for cats, and they will not overdose or become addicted to it. Typically, the effect of catnip lasts only for 5-15 minutes, after which cats no longer respond to it until a few hours have passed.

Catnip also has some practical uses, such as calming cats while traveling or moving house, or encouraging them to play with toys or scratching posts.

However, it’s essential not to confuse catnip with other plants that might be toxic for cats, such as lilies or chrysanthemums. If you are unsure about exposing your cat to any plant or herb, consult your vet first.


In summation, catnip has a compound called nepetalactone, which triggers a reaction in cats’ brains, leading to physiological and behavioral changes. It stimulates a playful and relaxed mood in cats but has no addictive or harmful effects on them. Although not all cats respond to catnip, it can be a great way of entertaining and calming your feline friend.

Common Questions and Answers

  • Q: Why do cats go crazy for catnip?
  • A: Cats go crazy for catnip due to the presence of the compound nepetalactone, which stimulates their brain and triggers a series of physiological and behavioral changes.
  • Q: Can cats overdose on catnip?
  • A: No, cats cannot overdose on catnip. Its effects last only for a short time, and after 10-15 minutes, cats lose interest in it.
  • Q: Is catnip safe for my cat?
  • A: Yes, catnip is safe for cats, and it has no addictive effects on them.
  • Q: Are there other plants that have a similar effect on cats as catnip?
  • A: Yes, there are other plants that can have a similar effect on cats, such as silver vine, valerian root, and honeysuckle. However, not all cats respond to these plants.
  • Q: Is it possible to grow catnip at home?
  • A: Yes, catnip is easy to grow at home, and it can be a great way of providing entertainment and relaxation for your cat.



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