Black and white cat laying down on a tree stump with fresh catnip. Taken in natural light.
(Picture Credit: Teresa Lett/Getty Images)

Cat Facts: Why Do Cats Go Wild For Catnip?

Have you ever seen a cat on catnip? They might go absolutely bonkers for the stuff: rolling around in it, running around the house at top speed, drooling, leaping at your hand if they smell it on you at all, or maybe just zoning out completely.

Some cats will even get really aggressive and protective of their catnip toy if they think you might take it away from them.

Catnip drives some cats absolutely wild — but why? And why do some cats seem to not care about it at all? Here’s what you should know about cats and catnip!

What Is Catnip?

Brown and white tabby cat playing with a toy mouse
(Picture Credit: SammiHood/Getty Images)

Catnip is an herb, scientifically called Nepeta Cataria, which is part of the mint family. It has heart-shaped leaves, and in the wild, it can grow up to three feet tall.

The plant has small flowers that can bloom in a white, blue, lavender, or pink color. It grows wild in North America but was originally imported here. It’s native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, and it’s fairly easy to grow, yourself.

When the leaves are broken, it releases a chemical called nepetalactone, which cats respond to. If you crush it between your fingers before you rub it on a cat toy or a scratching post, it will have more of an effect because you’re releasing the chemical’s scent.

What Does Catnip Do To Cats?

The scent of catnip has the strongest effect on cats. A study by the American Chemical Society found that the nepetalactone in the plant binds to the olfactory receptors in a cat’s nose and triggers a euphoric neurological response.

Experts aren’t sure, however, exactly why the herb triggers such an emotional response. Some scientists think the smell mimics a happy pheromone, and cats’ brains react to it, according to The Humane Society.

Some cats, however, will become aggressive, rather than euphoric, when they smell the herb due to a different reaction to its stimulant effect.

Ingesting catnip also impacts cats, but not as strongly as smelling it. When eaten, it tends to make cats mellower rather than happy.

Why Don’t Some Cats Like Catnip?

Sometimes, one cat will go bonkers for catnip while another cat doesn’t care for it at all. That’s because only some cats are actually sensitive to it.

A sensitivity to catnip is inherited, and experts estimate that about 50 to 70 percent of cats will respond to the herb. But the response isn’t limited to domestic felines.

Big wild cats, like lions and tigers, may have this sensitivity, too!

Did You Know That Humans Are Susceptible to Catnip?

Portrait of teenage girl by purple catmint
(Picture Credit: Sasha Bell/Getty Images)

Humans can be emotionally affected by catnip too, although not as strongly as cats are! It’s more of a sedative for people.

When used in tea, it can be kind of like chamomile. The sedating effects can also sometimes help with headaches, nausea, or toothaches.

In a concentrated form, it may repel mosquitoes and other bugs, but it doesn’t last as long as store-bought repellents, and some experts say that it loses its effectiveness when applied to the skin.

Catnip is a safe product for your cat, but if you have a multi-cat household, you should probably introduce each cat to it for the first time individually. This is just in case you have a cat who turns anxious or aggressive instead of happy when exposed to it.

The effects only last about five to 15 minutes. If you find that your cat likes it, you can buy toys and even scratching posts that are infused with it and reward your kitty with an unexpected treat.

Does your cat love catnip? How do they react to this herb? Let us know in the comments below!

monitoring_string = "44e5bb901650ec61e9e0af1ff1bef5fe"