cat laying on catnip

Key takeaway

Catnip is an herb from the mint family that elicits a playful or calm response in cats. Many cats experience euphoria and become more affectionate after inhaling catnip. However, catnip might not work on all cats. If you’re not sure how much catnip to give your cat, consult a vet.

Cats can’t seem to get enough of catnip, and yet all cats seem to experience catnip differently. Some cats get more energized after catnip, while others get calmer.

While it might be fun to watch how your cat behaves on catnip, you might also be wondering why they behave differently. In this article, we’ll discuss what catnip is, how cats act on catnip, and when to give your cat catnip. Let’s get started.

What Is Catnip?

Catnip, also known as nepeta cataria, is an herb in the mint family.1 Catnip also goes by the names, including:

  • Catnep
  • Catmint
  • Catrup
  • Catwort
  • Nip
  • Nep
  • Field balm1

Originally native to Europe and Asia, catnip is now grown in the US. This green-gray plant has heart-shaped leaves and thick stems covered in hairs. Catnip has long been used by humans for its medicinal properties.1 However, you can now find it in a variety of cat toys because of the reaction cats have to it.

graphic explaining what catnip does to cats

Catnip produces an active response in about 50-80% of cats. However, cats don’t respond when they’re younger than eight weeks of age, and some may not respond at all. Many cats enjoy catnip as it is used to change their mood and behavior into something that they enjoy, and their human companions find entertaining.1

How Do Cats Act On Catnip?

Nepetalactone, the oil in catnip, is responsible for your cat’s reactions to the herb by binding to olfactory cells in the nose and signaling the brain.3 Nepetalactone is released when the plant is chewed, rubbed up against, or crushed.3

Catnip works by being inhaled or eaten. If your cat has catnip in any form, they might rub against it, chew on it, or lick it, which allows the catnip to enter the brain. Many (but not all) cats respond to catnip, but research isn’t exactly sure just why different cats behave differently.2 Cats typically have two types of reactions to catnip. They can either have an active or passive response.

Active Response

research indicates that ⅔ of adult cats have an active catnip response

An active response includes rolling over, grooming, motor activity, and vocalizations.2 Additionally, cats may interact directly with the catnip — sniffing, licking it, rubbing against or over it for 5-15 minutes. Cats can easily become hyper, and some may become aggressive.4

Passive Response

A passive response is a relaxed sphinx-like position.2 Your cat may become incredibly relaxed and calm after consuming or sniffing catnip.

The duration of the catnip response varies depending on the cat. However, behaviors and responses due to the catnip last for around ten minutes before slowly wearing off.5

Your cat may become affectionate or more playful depending on how they react to catnip. Cats who have a positive experience with catnip can use catnip to help them feel less stressed.5 Once the effects of the catnip have worn off, your cat likely won’t be affected by more catnip for at least a few minutes.

How To Use Catnip

graphic listing how to use catnip

Catnip is a great way to provide your cat with mental stimulation, so catnip can be a great way to enrich their lives with something that keeps them active or helps them calm down. Of course, never give your cat too much catnip, as too much can make them sick. Here is how you can use catnip with your cat:

  • Fresh catnip: If you want a sustainable way to give your cat catnip, try growing your own catnip herbs at home. Catnip plants allow you to give your cat the freshest catnip available, and you can let them romp around in it as a way to play during the day. You can find a catnip plant kit at your local pet store or online and begin growing catnip at home. However, you can also choose to purchase fully grown plants that you only have to worry about maintaining rather than growing. The best part is you can grow catnip indoors and allow your pet to play in it or chew on it whenever they want.
  • Dried catnip: Dried catnip is the easiest form to use. You can add dry catnip to anything, including toys and scratching posts, or you can give it directly to your cat. Dried catnip makes a nice reward for training, or you can use it to shape your cat’s behavior. For example, you can use catnip to attract cats to one area of your home instead of another. Of course, always consider the freshness of the product you buy.
  • Catnip sprays or bubbles: Catnip spray and bubbles are great alternatives to dry or live catnip because they are mess-free. Once you’re done playing with your cat, you can simply put the bottles away. Cat sprays can be used to help attract your cat to a certain area of a home, while bubbles are a great option when you want to get your cat to be more playful. Cat bubbles allow your cat to get some exercise in their day by letting them catch the bubbles while also getting the benefits of catnip.
  • Toys stuffed with dried catnip: There are many catnip toys available on the market, and it’s a great way to engage your cat in play. Toys are stuffed with dried catnip, but you can also make your own at home. Always consider freshness when giving your cat a toy with catnip. The fresher the catnip, the better your cat’s reaction will be. You should also choose toys that are stuffed with catnip only. Beware: many toy manufacturers add filler to catnip, so always check the ingredients list on the toy before giving it to your cat.
  • Catnip balls: Catnip balls are another catnip toy for your pet that they can consume or sniff while playing with. They can provide your cat with much-needed exercise while also allowing them to experience all of the same benefits they can get from the herb.

When buying catnip, always do your research. Not all catnip and catnip products are the same, so it’s important to ensure it’s safe and healthy for your pet. Check the labels on cat products to ensure the catnip is grown in the USA and USDA-certified organic to ensure that there are no pesticides used on the catnip that could be harmful to pets.

Additionally, remember how important freshness is. While live catnip is the freshest form available, dried catnip should also be as fresh as possible to elicit the desired response from your cat. For that reason, it’s always best to purchase catnip products from stores that can guarantee freshness by either selling a lot of the herb so they have a high stock turnover rate or from local sources that grow their own catnip.

You should also keep your catnip fresh at home. You can freeze-dry it or put it in an airtight bag to ensure freshness.

When Should You Use Catnip?

when should you use catnip, list graphic

Catnip makes a great toy, but there are some times you might want to use catnip to help your cat get exercise or calm down during stressful periods. While cats love catnip, you might not want to give it to them when they’re already calm. For example, if your cat is sleeping, there’s no reason to wake them up to give them catnip. However, there are many times catnip can be an enrichment tool that promotes relaxation. Here’s when you should use catnip.

  • Training aid: You can use catnip as a training aid by using it to attract your cat to their scratching post or a certain area of the home. Any catnip form works, including catnip spray and dried catnip, to make your cat use a scratching post or stay close to one area of the home instead of another.6
  • Treat: Sometimes your cat deserves a little treat, and catnip makes a great option. Not only do cats love catnip, but you don’t have to worry about your cat consuming too many extra calories. Plus, depending on how your cat reacts to catnip, they might get some quality exercise out of their catnip experience.
  • In toys: Catnip is a great way to enrich and encourage physical activity. You can put catnip in many different cat toys or use a spray to make certain cat toys more enjoyable for cats. You can also make the catnip itself a toy by using catnip bubbles or catnip balls that allow your cat to run, play, and jump while experiencing catnip.
  • Reduce anxiety: As we’ve already mentioned, catnip is a great way to reduce anxiety in cats. You can give your cat catnip before any stressful situation, including bringing them to the vet, by sprinkling catnip in their crate.

While catnip can be used to help your cat become more physically active while reducing stress, it’s important not to give cats too much too often. Your cat doesn’t need a lot of catnip to experience it. Instead, give your cat small doses first. If you’re using a cat toy with catnip in it, allow them to play with the toy for a few minutes a day. Any longer than that, and your cat won’t be able to experience the same reactions to the toy.

Additionally, if you have more than one cat in the household, consider getting toys for all of them so they don’t have to fight over who gets the catnip toy. Depending on your cat’s personality, you might want to avoid giving them catnip. Aggressive cats can become more aggressive on catnip, while others can become aggressive when they see another cat playing with the catnip. While catnip can help reduce the anxiety that may lead to aggressiveness, it can also prevent them from behaving properly.

It’s also important to note that not all cats are interested in catnip; while many cats seem to never be able to get enough catnip, others might choose to ignore it. Of course, how a cat reacts to catnip varies, so if your cat doesn’t seem interested in catnip, there’s no reason to try to force them to play with it.

How Much Catnip Can Cats Have?

holding container of catnip

Catnip is non-toxic for cats. However, you should never give your cat too much as too much catnip can result in vomiting and diarrhea. If you want to give your cat catnip, always start slow so you can see how they react to it. Using a small amount of catnip at a time can help you gauge how much catnip your cat needs without giving them too much.

If you’re not sure how much catnip to give your cat, consult your vet. How your cat responds to catnip will depend on your cat, so it’s always best to start with a small dose and work your way up from there. Of course, if a small dose gives your cat the desired effect, you do not have to increase the dose.

Luckily, cats are unlikely to overdose on catnip, but it can induce digestive issues. If your cat seems to be having a negative reaction to catnip, take it away from them and monitor them until the effects wear off. Cats don’t need to have catnip every day, and they don’t need a lot of it. It should be noted, fresh catnip is more potent, so you’ll need less of it than dried catnip.

Can Kittens Have Catnip?

Catnip is not harmful to adult cats or kittens. However, catnip might be wasted on a kitten because research indicates that there needs to be brain maturation to elicit a response to catnip.2 Ultimately, most cats won’t have a reaction until they become adults or are at least six months to one year of age.

Catnip: Frequently Asked Questions

Is catnip just drugs for cats?

While many people refer to catnip as a drug for cats, and the response you see is similar to drug response in people, catnip is not a drug. Cats become playful, excited, and relaxed from catnip, but research does not indicate that catnip affects cats the same way a drug would affect a human.

Ultimately, catnip is not a drug. Although it can elicit a calm response in cats, it does not have to be ingested to take effect. Unlike drugs, catnip works off of scent, even though it can be ingested safely. Additionally, there’s no evidence that catnip is addictive to cats or that there are long-term side effects.

Why does catnip make cats go crazy?

Catnip affects many cats differently, but many cats have an active response, which includes hyperactive behavior. The main ingredient in catnip stimulates your cat’s brain and can affect their mood and happiness. While your cat might “go crazy” for a short period of time, catnip is ultimately calming for them, and many cats enjoy it.

Of course, there are some cats that should not have catnip. Cats with aggressive behavior could become more aggressive on catnip.

Can dogs get high on catnip?

Dogs might show interest in catnip plants, but not because of the same reason cats do. Dogs do not have the same response to catnip as cats. Instead, your dog might think it smells good and want to eat it. Luckily, catnip is non-toxic for dogs, so it’s completely safe for them to consume, but it will not elicit the same energetic response.

Is catnip safe for cats?

Catnip is non-toxic and safe for cats. However, they should never use too much catnip, which can induce vomiting and diarrhea. The effects of catnip are short-acting and completely harmless. However, if your cat gets hyper on catnip, you should monitor them to ensure they’re not getting into any trouble until the effects wear off. Cats cannot lethally overdose on catnip, making it a great way to help reduce their anxiety.

Final Notes

Catnip is an herb that elicits entertaining responses in cats. Not only can humans enjoy watching their cat on catnip, but the cats enjoy how they feel on catnip, and many elicit an active response that includes rolling over and playing before becoming calm, while some stay calm throughout the entire experience.

Catnip is most well known for its medicinal properties for humans, but catnip may also have a calming effect on animals. When you give your cat catnip for the first time, monitor them to see what type of response they have. If you notice your cat is calmer, consider giving them catnip during periods of extreme stress, such as car rides to the vet.

Of course, catnip and other herbs may not relieve anxiety at all, so you must know your cat and the signs of anxiety to help prevent them from becoming overstimulated and stressed. If you’re dealing with a stressed or aggressive cat, the best thing you can do is talk to a vet you trust.

That’s where Dutch comes in. Dutch offers telemedicine for pets that allow you to help your pet get the quality care they need from the comfort of their own home. Televet appointments can help reduce stress in already stressed pets to promote a calmer vet experience without the car rides or hassle. A Dutch licensed vet can help you find the best ways to help your anxious cat calm down and live a more quality life.

If your cat is stressed or anxious, catnip might not be enough to distract them and keep them calm during periods of extreme stress; instead, you might need anti-anxiety meds to help your cat stay calm and stop them from becoming worried.

A Dutch vet can help you find the best way to manage your pet’s anxiety while also being available to answer any and all of your questions about pet health and behavior. Not sure how much catnip to give your cat? We’ve got you covered. Talking to one of our vets can help you find the best way to take care of your cat so they can live a happy, healthy life.

References

  1. Grognet, J. “Catnip: Its Uses and Effects, Past and Present.” The Canadian Veterinary Journal = La Revue Veterinaire Canadienne, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 1990, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1480656/.

  2. Espín-Iturbe, Luz Teresa, et al. “Active and Passive Responses to Catnip (Nepeta Cataria) Are Affected by Age, Sex and Early Gonadectomy in Male and Female Cats.” Behavioural Processes, Elsevier, 8 July 2017, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0376635717301766.

  3. “How Does Catnip Work Its Magic on Cats?” Scientific American, Scientific American, 29 May 2007, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/experts-how-does-catnip-work-on-cats/.

  4. Schwartz S. Psychoactive herbs in veterinary medicine. Ames, Iowa: Blackwell; 2005
  5. Hoffmann, Heather. “What Is Catnip? What Does Catnip Do to Cats?” PetMD, PetMD, 14 Dec. 2021, https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/what-is-catnip.

  6. Zhang, L, John JM. Scratcher preferences of adult in-home cats and effects of olfactory supplements on cat scratching. Appl Anim Behav Sci, 2020;227:104997