What’s the Deal with Catnip?

Catnip is a popular and inexpensive cat toy. Our feline friends vary in reaction to the green stuff, but most will exhibit some type of abnormal behavior—they’ll likely roll around, paw at the material, or try to eat it. But what is catnip? What about it affects our pets?

Catnip contains the feline attractant nepetalactone. This attractant is known for its behavioral effect on the cat family—not only on domestic cats, but on leopards, cougars, servals, and lynxes, too. With domestic cats, nepetalactone is used as a recreational substance for enjoyment. Catnip and catnip-laced products are some of the most popular cat toys and supplies on the market, facilitating a sensation of euphoria in most felines. When exposed to the substance, cats may rub on, roll in, paw at, lick, and chew the toy. Consuming this plant is often followed by drooling, sleepiness, and purring.

However, some cats react negatively to the presence of catnip; many experience severe anxiety and overstimulation, which may lead to growling, meowing, scratching, and/or biting. If you’re unsure if your cat will demonstrate these behaviors, introduce a small amount of the plant at a time. The main response period after exposure is generally between five and fifteen minutes. If you don’t see any behavioral changes initially, wait a bit longer.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “but my cat doesn’t do anything with catnip,” you’re not alone. Actually, around one third of all cats are not affected by catnip. The behavior is hereditary. However, if you want to give your non-responsive cat a good time, there are other plants that may induce catnip-like reactions: valerian root and leaves, silver vine, and Tatarian honeysuckle wood are very popular.

So, if you haven’t exposed your cat to this plant yet, do so slowly and carefully observe their reaction. Don’t give them too much, and stop immediately if they start exhibiting symptoms of anxiety or overstimulation. With catnip, moderation is key.