What Is Catnip Like for Cats? A Feline’s High.

Most cat owners are familiar with catnip, that magical herb that seems to make their feline friends go crazy. But what exactly is catnip, and how does it affect cats? In this article, we’ll explore the world of catnip and delve into what makes it so fascinating for our furry companions.

What Is Catnip?

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the mint family, and its fragrant leaves contain a chemical called nepetalactone that is irresistible to cats. When a cat smells or ingests catnip, it triggers a response in their brain that can lead to some bizarre and comical behavior.

How Does It Work?

When a cat inhales nepetalactone, it binds to receptors in their olfactory system, which then sends a signal to the brain’s pleasure center. This process causes a range of effects, including euphoria, relaxation, and increased activity levels. The effects of catnip don’t last long, usually between 5 and 15 minutes.

Why Do Cats Like Catnip?

Not all cats react to catnip, but those that do seem to have a strong affinity for it. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but it’s believed that the response is due to the similarity of nepetalactone to a feline pheromone that induces a sexual response. Essentially, when a cat smells catnip, it triggers a response similar to when they are in heat.

Do All Cats like Catnip?

No, not all cats react to catnip. This trait is inherited and is present in approximately 70% of cats. Additionally, kittens under the age of six months and older cats may not respond to catnip.

What Happens When Cats Are High on Catnip?

When a cat ingests or inhales catnip, their behavior can change dramatically. Here are some of the most common effects:

  • Increase in Activity – one of the most common effects of catnip is increased activity levels. Your cat may start running, jumping, and playing with toys more actively than usual.
  • Rolling Around – Cats under the influence of catnip often roll on their backs and rub their heads or faces against the surface where the catnip was sprinkled.
  • Euphoria – Catnip can induce a euphoric state in cats, where they appear to be in a state of bliss, almost resembling a “cat smile.”
  • Calmness – While some cats become overly active, others may become more sedate or relaxed, especially after the initial burst of activity.
  • Avoidance – In some rare cases, certain cats may have an aversion to catnip, avoiding it altogether.

Is Catnip Safe for Cats?

Yes, catnip is entirely safe for cats. It is not toxic, and the effects are not harmful, but it is recommended to give it to them in moderation. Some cats may become excessively agitated or aggressive, so it’s best to monitor their behavior closely.

How Can You Give Catnip to Your Cat?

There are several ways to give your cat catnip:

  • Dried Catnip – This is the most common form of catnip, packaged and sold either in small bags or loose leaves.
  • Catnip Spray – Spraying catnip on a toy or scratching post is an easy way to give your cat some fun.
  • Plant Catnip – Growing a catnip plant in your garden is another way to provide your cat with a fresh batch of it.

How Often Can You Give Your Cat Catnip?

It’s recommended to limit your cat’s intake of catnip to once a week or two, allowing them to experience its effects without getting overstimulated or bored.

The Bottom Line

Catnip is a safe and enjoyable way to stimulate your feline friends and provide them with some harmless fun. Whether it’s watching them roll around in euphoria or watching them pounce on their toys, the effects of catnip are undoubtedly entertaining for both cats and their owners.


  • Q: How long does the effect of catnip last in cats?
  • A: The effects of catnip typically last between 5-15 minutes.
  • Q: Can cats overdose on catnip?
  • A: No, cats cannot overdose on catnip. However, it’s recommended to limit their exposure to once a week or two.
  • Q: Do all cats react to catnip?
  • A: No, only about 70% of cats display the response to catnip.
  • Q: Is catnip safe for cats?
  • A: Yes, catnip is entirely safe and non-toxic to cats.


  1. Bradshaw, J. W. (2018). Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet. Basic Books.
  2. Bernstein, L. (2011). Catnip: Its uses and effects, past and present. Veterinary Medicine, 106(5), 72–77.
  3. Herron, M. E., & Buffington, C. T. (2015). The effects of catnip on socialization, exploration and play behaviour in domestic cats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 171, 155–160.

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