If you’ve grown up with cats, you may have come across catnip before. Some cats can have a very interesting and intense reaction to this herb.

But what is catnip, and what does catnip do to cats?

What is Catnip?

The herb catnip goes by a few different names. It is also known as catswort, catwort and catmint. When people are talking about catnip, they are talking about nepeta cataria. The herb is native to eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of China. In more recent times, catnip has been imported to the US and can easily grow in the climate.

This perennial plant grows to be about three feet tall and wide and will bloom from late spring to early fall. If you’d like to give growing some a try, it’s best to plant them in full sun. Catnip is often used as an ornamental plant, but it will attract butterflies as well as neighborhood cats.

Catnip has several uses if you decide to grow it yourself. While it does simply look nice, it is also a great deterrent for mosquitoes, flies and aphids. In fact, research suggests that catnip is a more effective spatial repellent than DEET, though it’s not as effective when placed on skin.

What Does Catnip Do to Cats?

While we can plant catnip as a beautiful piece of our garden, when does catnip do to cats?

The effects of catnip on cats have been compared to that of marijuana or LSD in humans. It produces a “high” that lasts between five and fifteen minutes at a time. Catnip also affects a cat differently depending on if the herb has been smelled or ingested.

Cats who sniff at catnip will have a stimulant effect. Your cat may use their paw to bat at the catnip. They may try crushing it or rubbing it into the floor. They may also start to roll around the floor. One of the more extreme, though common, reactions, when smelled, is to start jumping or flipping around and being overall very energetic.

If your cat ingests catnip, they get more of a sedative effect. Your cat may become very vocal and meow, growl or purr. They are also likely to start drooling if they eat catnip. Again, their reaction shouldn’t last very long though they’ll likely take a few hours alone after a dose of catnip.

Fun Facts About Catnip

Catnip can be a fun treat for your cat to try. If you’ve considered giving your cat catnip, here are some fun facts about catnip you may have not known before.

  • Only about two-thirds of cats react to catnip. – It’s been discovered that only about half to two-thirds of cats are affected by catnip. This means that you have grown up with a cat who didn’t care a bit about catnip, but another cat may be over the moon about it.
  • The effects of catnip are relatively short lived. – The hyperactive symptoms of catnip use only arise after the smelling of catnip. Researchers believe this is because the aroma is thought to mimic cat pheromones. Because the hyperactive reaction to catnip is smell based, your cat’s nose eventually becomes exhausted and they won’t have the same reaction. Therefore, the effects only last up to fifteen minutes.
  • Cats can develop a tolerance to catnip. – If your cat continues to walk away from catnip and come back, they can build a tolerance to it. Most vets would only recommend giving catnip to your cat one or two times a month to prevent habituation.
  • Catnip isn’t just for your house cat. – While many people may be aware of house cats react to catnip, other animals in the feline family also react to catnip. Tests have shown that large cats like leopards, cougars, and lynxes can have a strong reaction to catnip. Even lions and tigers have been shown to react, though their results are less consistent.
  • Catnip is used by more than just cats. – When a cat eats catnip, they experience its sedative properties. People have been using catnip for the same reason as well. It is said to have similar sedative properties as chamomile, so humans have been making teas with catnip for hundreds of years. Modern medicine has put a halt to the use of catnip.
  • Catnip is perfectly safe for cats to use. – While the effect of catnip on cats is compared to marijuana or LSD, you should know that catnip is perfectly safe for your cat. Catnip is neither harmful nor addictive for cats.

Should You Give Your Cat Catnip?

Some people are opposed to giving catnip to their cats. This could be a belief that catnip is a mind-altering drug, or it can be that people don’t want to make their cat act goofy or sleepy. Whether you decided to give your cat catnip or not, it’s important to know what catnip does to your cat and that it is safe to occasionally use.