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Understanding Catnip: Why Cats Love It and Is It Safe?

Understanding Catnip: Why Cats Love It and Is It Safe?

Catnip, also known as Nepeta cataria, is a perennial herb that has been enchanting cats for centuries. This fascinating plant belongs to the mint family and is native to Europe, although it is now widely cultivated around the world. Catnip's unique properties can induce a range of reactions in cats, from sheer delight to a state of blissful relaxation. In this article, we will explore why cats love catnip, how it affects them, and whether it is safe for our feline friends.

Why do cats love catnip?

The secret behind catnip's allure lies in its chemical composition. Catnip contains a compound called nepetalactone, which acts as a stimulant for many cats. When cats come into contact with catnip, whether by sniffing, licking, or rolling around in it, the nepetalactone is released and binds to receptors in their olfactory system.

The reaction to catnip can vary among individual cats. Some may become more active, displaying playful behavior such as leaping, running, or pouncing, while others may become more relaxed and sedated. It's estimated that approximately 50-75% of cats are affected by catnip, and the sensitivity can be influenced by genetics.

It is worth noting that kittens under the age of six months usually do not show a response to catnip. The sensitivity tends to develop as they reach sexual maturity.

How does catnip affect cats?

When cats interact with catnip, they may exhibit a range of behaviors, including:

Excitement and playfulness: Many cats become more energetic and engage in playful antics after encountering catnip. They may chase imaginary prey, roll around, or become more active in general.

Relaxation and contentment: On the flip side, some cats experience a calming effect when exposed to catnip. They may become more mellow, curl up, and appear content and relaxed.

Licking, rubbing, and rolling: Cats often engage in behaviors such as licking, rubbing their faces or bodies against catnip, and rolling around in it. This behavior helps to spread the nepetalactone and intensify the effects.

It's important to note that catnip's effects are temporary, typically lasting around 10-15 minutes. After that, cats may lose interest until they encounter catnip again after a period of rest.

Is catnip safe for cats?

Fortunately, catnip is generally safe for cats to enjoy. The herb itself is non-toxic and does not pose any significant health risks. In fact, catnip can be a great way to provide mental stimulation and enrichment for your feline companion.

However, it's essential to use catnip responsibly and in moderation. While catnip is not addictive, excessive exposure to it can lead to overstimulation and hyperactivity, which may cause temporary behavioral changes. If you notice your cat becoming overly excited or agitated, it's best to remove the catnip and allow them to calm down naturally.

Additionally, not all cats respond positively to catnip. Some may show no reaction at all, while others may have a mild response. It's perfectly normal, and it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with your cat.

If you're unsure how your cat will react to catnip, introduce it gradually. Offer a small amount on a toy or sprinkle it on a scratching post to observe their response. If your cat shows a positive reaction, you can incorporate catnip into their playtime routine occasionally.


Catnip is a fascinating herb that holds a unique appeal for many cats. Its active compound, nepetalactone, can trigger various responses, ranging from playful antics to relaxation. As long as it is used in moderation