Why Do Cats Go Crazy Over Catnip? The Inside Scoop

As any cat owner will tell you, cats love catnip. The mere presence of it can turn even the laziest feline into a hyperactive ball of fur. But why do cats seem to go utterly crazy over this herb? In this article, we will investigate the science behind catnip and what makes it so attractive to our feline friends.

The History of Catnip

Catnip has been around for centuries and is native to Europe, Africa and Asia. The ancient Egyptians cultivated it, believing it to have medicinal and cosmetic properties. Later, the Greeks and Romans used it for medicinal purposes, such as to treat colds and digestive problems. Catnip was also believed to have other uses, such as warding off evil spirits.

How Catnip Works

The thing that makes catnip so attractive to cats is a chemical compound called nepetalactone. This oil is found in the leaves and stems of the catnip plant and is what causes the typical feline reaction. When cats sniff or ingest the nepetalactone, it binds to their olfactory receptors, causing a range of behaviors such as sniffing, licking, rolling, and rubbing against the plant.

Why Do Some Cats Not Respond to Catnip?

It’s a common misconception that all cats go crazy over catnip. However, only around 70% of cats are actually affected by the plant. The reason for this come down to genetics. Catnip sensitivity is an inherited trait, and cats only respond to the nepetalactone if they carry the gene for it. If a cat does not have the gene, then it will not respond to the chemical.

What Are the Effects of Catnip on Cats?

The three most common responses to catnip in cats are sniffing, licking, and rolling. Some cats may also become agitated or aggressive. The effects typically last for around 10-15 minutes, after which time the cat will lose interest in the catnip. It can take up to an hour for the cat to become susceptible to catnip again after exposure.

Is Catnip Safe for Cats?

Catnip has no known harmful effects on cats and is considered safe for them to ingest. In fact, some veterinarians recommend it as a natural stress reliever for cats. However, it’s important to note that while catnip is non-toxic, other plants that are related to it – such as honeysuckle – may be toxic to cats.

Can Cats Overdose on Catnip?

It’s nearly impossible for cats to overdose on catnip, as their bodies will naturally reject the plant if they have ingested too much. However, it’s important to restrict access to catnip to prevent cats from getting too worked up and hurting themselves or others.


Catnip has been popular with cats for centuries and continues to be a favorite today. It’s perfectly safe for cats and can even help them to relax. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all cats will respond to catnip and to be cautious when giving it to your pet.

  • Q: How often can I give my cat catnip?
  • A: It’s best to limit catnip exposure to once or twice a week to prevent cats from developing a tolerance to it.
  • Q: Can I give my cat fresh catnip?
  • A: Yes, fresh catnip is safe for cats and can be given in small amounts.
  • Q: Do all cats respond to catnip?
  • A: No, only around 70% of cats have the gene for the nepetalactone receptor and are therefore affected by it.


  • Animal Planet. (2019). Catnip. https://www.animalplanet.com/pets/catnip
  • Vet Street. (2021). The Fascinating Science Behind Why Cats Love Catnip. https://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/the-fascinating-science-behind-why-cats-love-catnip
  • WebMD. (2021). Catnip and Cats. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/catnip-effects-on-cats#1

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