Why Do Cats Love Catnip?

by | Oct 18, 2021

Have you ever wondered why cats love catnip so much? What is catnip, and why don’t people or dogs react to it like cats do? Why do some cats not react to catnip?

Since our cat sitters at The Comforted Kitty are feline experts, we wanted to answer all your catnip questions. Read on to learn more about Fluffy’s favorite herb!

What Is Catnip?

Catnip is a member of the mint family (cousin to basil and oregano), and it grows in Europe, Asia, and North America. Even its Latin name – Nepeta cataria – refers to cats (“cataria” means “of a cat”). While most people refer to it as catnip, some call it catwort, catmint, or field balm.

As much as cats love catnip, gardeners see catnip as an invasive weed, which goes to show that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

Why Do Cats Like Catnip?

Catnip’s leaves, seeds, and stems contain biochemical compounds called nepetalactone and nepetalactol. When cats sniff or eat catnip, these compounds light up the amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for emotions, and the hypothalamus, which regulates body functions. Scientists believe nepetalactone and nepetalactol act like a pheromone for cats, which triggers their unusual behavior.

Why did cats develop the ability to react to nepetalactone and nepetalactol while other mammals didn’t? Scientists aren’t really sure. One theory is that it may help repel mosquitoes and other pests. A study showed that cats who rolled on a piece of paper soaked in nepetalactol attracted fewer mosquitoes than those that didn’t.

As much as cats love catnip, the good news is they can’t become addicted to it. In fact, being exposed to catnip too frequently can actually make cats less susceptible to its effects.

, Why Do Cats Love Catnip?, The Comforted Kitty

How Long Does Catnip Last?

For most cats, the effects of catnip last for about 10 minutes. After the effects wear off, it takes an hour or two before your cat will be able to react to catnip again. Reactions to catnip vary by cat, but may include:

  • Chewing or rubbing their faces in it
  • Running around the room
  • Looking blissed out
  • Mewing
  • Rolling over on their back
  • Throwing a catnip toy around

Why Doesn’t My Cat Like Catnip?

While scientists aren’t sure why, about 1 out of 3 domestic cats don’t react to catnip. However, most cats of all sizes – including lions, tigers, bobcats, lynx, and mountain lions – do respond to catnip.

The “catnip gene” is hereditary, so cats who don’t react to catnip usually have kittens who don’t respond to it, either.

Additionally, kittens don’t react to catnip until they’re about 3 to 6 months old, and some older cats lose interest in catnip.

Other Plants Cats Enjoy

Did you know cats can have similar reactions to other plants besides catnip? Nearly 4 out of 5 cats respond to silver vine (including about 3 out of 4 cats who don’t respond to catnip) and about half of cats respond to Tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root.

If your cat doesn’t respond to catnip, you might try one of those, instead.

Does Catnip Affect People?

Maybe, but not in the same way and not as intensely. You can brew catnip into a sedating tea, and Native Americans used to give it to babies for colic. Some people also claim that catnip may help with migraines, insomnia, indigestion, cramps, arthritis, and anxiousness, but little research has been done to verify these claims.

How to Give Catnip to Your Kitty

While catnip toys dominate pet store shelves, cats can actually become desensitized to catnip if they’re exposed to it too often, so you shouldn’t leave catnip toys out all the time. On the other hand, catnip can make an excellent training aid.

Rub catnip on a scratching post to encourage your cat to use it rather than your furniture. Sprinkle catnip on a new pet bed for your kitty to know it’s for them. Sprinkle it in the cat carrier to make it less scary. If your cat loves catnip, you can get creative on how you reward your kitty with it.

Can I Grow My Own Catnip?

Sure! Catnip, being an invasive weed, is relatively easy to grow in a pot or garden, and it’s safe for your cat to nibble on it as it grows. While you’re at it, you can create your own kitty garden with catnip in one pot and rye, oat, wheat, or barley grass in another.

Does Catnip Go Bad?

The essential oils in catnip can dissipate pretty quickly when exposed to light or heat, so keep your container of dried catnip in the freezer to keep it fresh longer.

, Why Do Cats Love Catnip?, The Comforted Kitty

Find a Cat Sitter Your Cat Likes as Much as Catnip

Who do you trust to watch your cat when you’re away? If you live in San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas and need a cat sitter who will do more than just refill food and water bowls, you can trust The Comforted Kitty to provide your cat with the same love and attention you do.

Each visit lasts a minimum of 30 minutes. In addition to feeding your cat, refilling water bowls or fountains, and cleaning out the litter box, your sitter will play with, pet, brush, or interact with your kitty in whatever way your cat prefers. During each daily visit, the sitter will send you a picture of your cat with an update on their health and happiness.

If that’s not enough, our cat sitters may retrieve garbage cans, administer medication, bring in your mail, water your plants, and make your home look lived in.

Schedule your next cat sitting with The Comforted Kitty today and relax knowing your cat will be loved while you’re away. Click here now to make an appointment.



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