Skip to content

Most of us know that cats love catnip and go crazy for it. You may have offered your cat some catnip and watched as they have fun with it, eating, smelling, rolling around in it, or lounging around. Wondering what catnip is and why your cat loves it?

What is Catnip?

Catnip, scientifically known as Nepeta cataria, is a common herb that is a member of the mint family. Originally native to Europe and Asia, it now grows wild across the US. Catnip is a grayish-green plant with heart shaped leaves and thick stems covered in fuzzy hairs that can grow to two to three feet high. It sprouts small purple flowers and is rather easy to grow.

What Does Catnip Do to Cats?

The active ingredient in catnip is an essential oil called nepetalactone. Exactly how nepetalactone affects the wiring of your cat’s brain isn’t fully clear, but researchers suspect that it targets “happy” receptors in the brain which mimic feline pheromones, causing a euphoric reaction. Around 50-60% of cats respond to catnip, including big cats like lions and tigers! Kittens may not react at all and only develop the behavioural change from catnip at an older age.

Once your cat smells catnip, they may react by sniffing, licking, eating, rolling, and/or rubbing their cheeks on it. They may also stretch, drool, jump, and become hyperactive, though some cats may become mellow. The effects of catnip usually last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the dose and how much your cat eats or inhales. Once your cat has enjoyed some catnip, it may be a couple of hours before they can be affected by it again.

Benefits of Catnip

Encourage Exercise

Catnip is commonly used to encourage your cat to explore and play, especially if your cat is a bit of a couch potato! All cats need daily exercise to help keep their weight on track and avoid health problems.


Use catnip as a training aid to encourage your cat to use scratching posts. You can also use it in your cat’s carrier to create a positive association to encourage them to enter.

Reduce Anxiety

For some cats, it can work as a mild sedative and can help reduce anxiety before stressful events like long car rides or visits to the vet.

Is Catnip Safe?

Catnip is not a narcotic and is not addictive. Your cat is unlikely to overdose on catnip as most cats will refuse it once they’ve had enough. However, they can get sick and have diarrhea or vomit from eating too much of it. There are no specific dose recommendations for catnip, but keep in mind that fresh catnip is more potent than dried. Use a little at a time, and you can always discuss the correct amount for your cat with your veterinarian.

Can Cats Eat Catnip?

Yes, your cat can eat catnip, and it may even be helpful for their digestive tract. When a cat actually eats catnip, it can act as a mild sedative. 

If you want to use catnip to get your fussy cat to eat, you could try sprinkling catnip into their food. The smell of the catnip will prove irresistible. However, consuming catnip may make your cat sleepy and could result in an abandoned food dish. 

There are better ways to get a picky cat to eat, including topping their bowl with Marie’s Magical Dinner Dust. You will add much-needed nutrition while making mealtime a better experience.