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Helpful Facts About Catnip

helpful facts about catnip

Catnip is something many cat guardians still don’t understand. I’ve seen some people overdo it in terms of offering it to cats and others who never give their cats the chance to enjoy this fun experience. Here’s a list of some interesting facts about catnip:


  • Catnip is a perennial belonging to the mint family.
  • It’s a plant native to Europe that was imported to the United States and other countries.
  • In appearance, the plant can grow to about 2-3 feet tall and has heart-shaped leaves.
  • The blooms can be lavender, white or pink.
  • If grown outdoors, it can quickly take over your garden, not to mention the fact that it’ll attract the neighborhood cats to your yard.
  • Catnip products come in many forms – fresh, dried, sprays, catnip-filled toys, chew products, scratching posts, etc.
  • Since the quality of catnip can vary, it’s best to buy good quality, organic catnip free from pesticides and fillers.
    catnip (nepeta cataria)

    Photo: Fotolia

The Catnip Response

  • Nepetalactone is the chemical in catnip that causes the response.
  • It creates a feeling of euphoria, similar to the effect of a hallucinogenic drug but without any addictive or harmful effects.
  • The catnip response is inherited.
  • It’s estimated that about 30% of cats lack this gene.
  • Kittens and elderly cats don’t typically respond to catnip, and in fact, young kittens may actually be repelled by it.
  • Even big cats, such as tigers, respond to catnip.
  • The catnip response lasts about 10-15 minutes.
  • It takes about 1-2 hours for the behavior to reset before a cat is capable of reacting to the herb again.
  • Cats react to catnip through inhalation.
  • Cats also use their vomeronasal organ (Jacobson’s organ) to analyze the scent.
  • Inhaled catnip has a stimulating and euphoric effect whereas ingested catnip has a calming effect.
  • When exposed to catnip, cats tend to sniff, roll, lick and even eat the herb. All of this is totally normal and harmless.

Unexpected Reactions

There are some cats who become aggressive when exposed to catnip. In a multicat household, it’s best to first test a cat’s response by offering the herb to each one individually so you can gauge reactions. If you find out one cat gets a bit aggressive, offer that kitty catnip in a separate location and then wait until the effect has totally worn off before reuniting him with his feline companions.