Skip to Content

What is the point of catnip?

Catnip, also known as catmint or catswort, is a plant from the mint family that has a unique effect on cats. Catnip contains an essential oil called nepetalactone which is known to cause a temporary euphoric high in about two-thirds of cats when smelled or eaten. But why does catnip affect cats this way, and what is the point of this herb that seems to turn our feline friends into playful addicts?

The Euphoric Reaction Explained

When cats eat, sniff, or rub against catnip, the nepetalactone binds to olfactory receptors in their noses and stimulates a response in their brains. This leads to a brief high that lasts around 5-15 minutes. The high consists of behaviors like rolling around, rubbing their face on the catnip, vocalizing, drooling, and general playfulness. Essentially, catnip induces a feeling oftemporary bliss and excitement in cats.

Researchers believe this reaction is passed on genetically and inherited as an evolutionary trait. The response is present in big cat species as well like lions and tigers. One theory holds that the chemical nepetalactone mimics feline “happy” pheromones. Sniffing this compound tricks the brain into thinking those pheromones are present, inducing a good mood.

Benefits of Catnip

While catnip may seem like just a recreational pastime for cats, the herb offers some health benefits. These include:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Encourage playtime and exercise
  • Act as a mild sedative
  • Relieve digestive issues like constipation
  • Repel insects like mosquitos and roaches when rubbed on the fur

The relaxing, anti-anxiety properties of catnip can help high-strung cats feel calmer. The increase in playtime and activity can aid digestion, promote cardiovascular health, and prevent obesity.

How to Use Catnip

There are a few ways to harness the power of catnip for your feline friend:

  • Catnip toys – Many cat toys contain dried catnip that will be released when batted, chewed, or scratched.
  • Loose dried catnip – Sprinkle over toys or scratching posts, rub on play tunnels or cardboard boxes.
  • Catnip sprays – Spray over toys, scratchers, or kitty bedding.
  • Live catnip plants – Let your cat rub against or chew on the fresh plant.
  • Catnip tea – Steep one teaspoon of dried catnip per cup of hot water for a soothing tea.

Use catnip sparingly as a treat. Giving too much can make the effect wear off. Many cats will eventually outgrow the catnip response between ages 3-6.

Is Catnip Safe?

Catnip is generally very safe for cats to enjoy. There are a few precautions however:

  • Avoid giving to kittens under 6 months old as it can cause excess drowsiness.
  • Reduce use for elderly cats who may become overstimulated.
  • Never give a cat marijuana or cannabis products as THC is toxic to them!

As long as you use catnip appropriately and within reason, it can be a fun and stimulating treat for your favorite felines!

Why Does Catnip Affect Cats and Not Humans?

Nepetalactone binds to olfactory receptors in a cat’s nose that humans lack. Their brains are wired to respond to this chemical in a way human brains are not. However, some humans report mild effects from catnip including relaxation, drowsiness, and reduced anxiety when consuming catnip tea. But the reaction is nowhere near as intense as seen in cats.


While catnip affects cats in a way we don’t fully understand, we do know it provides temporary pleasure, relaxation, and sensory stimulation for our furry friends. As long as it is used safely and in moderation, catnip can be a fun way for a cat to get playful exercise, reduce anxiety, and bond with their human caretakers.

Benefit Explanation
Reduce stress Catnip has anti-anxiety properties that induce a temporary feeling of relaxation and calmness.
Encourage playtime The euphoric high will make cats more energetic, playful, and active.
Act as a mild sedative The calming effect can help restless cats settle down.
Relieve digestive issues Increasing exercise and activity can aid digestion and prevent constipation.
Repel insects Rubbing dried catnip on fur may help deter mosquitos and roaches.

When to Avoid Catnip

Group Reason to Avoid
Kittens under 6 months May cause excess drowsiness in young cats.
Elderly cats Overstimulation could occur.
Cats on medication Consult a vet, as catnip may interact with certain medications.
Outdoor cats Being “high” outside could impair judgement and risk safety.

Tips for Using Catnip

  • Use catnip sparingly, as a treat.
  • Give your cat playtime to “come down” from the high before giving more.
  • Rub on toys or mix into treats rather than giving dry loose catnip.
  • Store in an airtight container away from light and moisture.
  • Grow your own catnip plants for freshness.
  • Avoid purchasing catnip products from unknown sellers.

With proper use, catnip can be a fun source of fascination, activity, and relaxation for our feline friends!