Why Do Cats Like Catnip SO Much?

Posted by Dr. Kyle Burton on

If you have a cat that loves catnip, you have seen for yourself just how much our feline companions go crazy for the stuff. Have you ever wondered to yourself just why they like catnip SO much?

Exactly What is Catnip?

Catnip, also known as nepeta cataria, is an herb from the mint family that is known for its intoxicating effect on cats. Many cats become playful and active when exposed to the herb, rolling around and acting out of character. Catnip is not addictive and it is safe for cats to consume.

So feel free to provide your cat with entertainment and mental stimulation by giving them catnip. It has been used for centuries to help cats relax. However, be careful not to give the cat too much since it can cause cats to become agitated or over-stimulated.

Catnip is not only used as a recreational treat for cats, but it can also be used to help train them to stay away from certain areas of the house. Sprinkling a bit of the dried herb in the areas you want your cat to stay away from can help deter them from going there.

Catnip also has some medicinal properties, as it can be used to treat stomach aches, colds, and other ailments. It is also known to be an effective insect repellent, as it contains nepetalactone, a chemical that bugs find unpleasant. Catnip can be given as a dry herb or as an essential oil and can be found in many pet supply stores.

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What Do Cats Feel When They Get Catnip?

When cats are exposed to catnip, they often experience an intense feeling of euphoria.

The mere scent of catnip causes cats to become excited as if they have been given a treat.  

It may make them want to roll around, rub their faces against the catnip, lick it, chew it, or just sit back and purr contentedly. Some cats may even drool. After a few minutes, the effects of catnip wear off and the cat may go back to their normal behavior. 

This effect of catnip is caused by a volatile oil found in the plant's leaves and stems, which contains a chemical called nepetalactone. 

a cat sitting on a couch

This chemical triggers a response in cats, stimulating them and making them feel happy and relaxed. Catnip can also have a sedative effect, calming cats down and making them more relaxed. In addition, some cats may show signs of aggression when exposed to catnip, such as growling, hissing, or swatting at objects.

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How Do Cats Respond to Catnip?

Cats typically respond to catnip with a wide variety of reactions, from becoming more active and playful to exhibiting relaxed and lazy behavior. The most common response is a state of euphoria, with cats rolling around, purring, and rubbing their faces in the catnip. 

Some cats may even drool or meow in delight. Some cats may become aggressive when exposed to catnip, while others become more affectionate. Cats may also nibble on the catnip or lick it, which can help release the oils that contain the active compounds. 

The effects of catnip usually last for around 10 minutes before the cat loses interest and the effects wear off. Interestingly, only 50-70% of cats are actually affected by catnip, and kittens under the age of 8 weeks are usually not affected by it.

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Other Benefits of Catnip

Here are a few of the other benefits that catnip provides to cats and their owners:

Takes the Edge Off

Catnip may cause a calming effect that can reduce the anxiety of some cats. If your cats have travel stress or get a little nervous when visiting the veterinarian, catnip can make it easier for your cats and you to get where you have to go.

Related: Guess What? Our Pets Suffer From Anxiety Too!

a cat hugging a barbell

Use it to Train your Cats

Use catnip to reward your cat’s positive behavior. Although a lot of people believe that cats don’t like to be trained, they need mental stimulation and physical exercise. Cat training is important because it helps cats to become better adjusted and better behaved pets

It can also help to reduce undesirable behaviors, such as scratching furniture, jumping on counters, and eliminating around inappropriate places. Training can also help cats to form better relationships with their owners and other animals in the home. 

Finally, training can help cats to become more confident and comfortable when interacting with people, which can make them more enjoyable to be around.

So the next time your cat stays calm and refrains from fighting you while you’re clipping their claws or putting them into their travel kennel, give them a little catnip. It might make things easier next time.

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Wait, Not All Cats Like Catnip?

Nope, not all cats like catnip. While it is true that the majority of cats enjoy the effects of catnip, there is a small percentage of cats that do not experience any reaction to the herb. 

For the cats that do not respond to catnip, it is likely that their genetics are not compatible with the herb. If your cat does not react to catnip, there is nothing to worry about, as it is a natural occurrence.

So if Catnip is Like a Drug, Will My Cat Build a Tolerance to It?

Cats can become accustomed to catnip, but it won’t cause them to become addicted. In fact, cats often become less sensitive to catnip over time, so it’s best to limit catnip exposure to a few times a week. If your cat does develop a tolerance, it is recommended that you stop giving it catnip for several weeks so that the sensitivity can return.

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