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Home > Cats > How Far Away Can My Cat Smell Catnip From? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

How Far Away Can My Cat Smell Catnip From? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

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Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are incredible animals. They can jump up to six times their own height, sleep for 16 hours a day, and have 18 toes. They are also well known for their love of catnip, although not all cats are actually attracted to catnip. We know cats’ sense of smell is at least 10 to 20 times greater than that of humans, but to date, there is no exact information on how far away a cat can smell catnip. It is possible that cats can smell catnip up to a mile away.

Catnip is a perennial herb that belongs to the same family as mint. It grows wild and can be grown in your garden or in pots around the house. It can also be bought in packs and is often rubbed on cat toys and scratching posts in a bid to try and encourage otherwise finicky cats to approach.


What Is Catnip?

Catnip is a perennial herb. Its scientific name is Nepeta cataria and it is a member of the mint family. The plant contains an oil called nepetalactone, which is found on the leaves and stems. When the plant is rubbed or brushed against another surface, they release nepetalactone, which is the ingredient that cats respond to.

Catnip is native to parts of Europe and Asia, where it can be found growing wild and in abundance. It has rough-looking leaves that are shaped like hearts and the whole plant is covered in a thick fuzz.

cat sniffing dried catnip
Photo By: Lightspruch, Shutterstock

How Far Away Can Cats Smell Catnip?

The exact answer is currently unknown. To date, there is no exact information on how far away a cat can smell catnip. However, we do know that cats have an incredibly good sense of smell. A male cat can smell a female cat in heat from almost a mile away, so it is possible that cats could also smell catnip from such a distance. It is estimated that a cat’s sense of smell is at least between 10 to 20 times greater than that of a human. They have an extra structure, the vomeronasal organ, which allows them to sense scents and chemicals that we can’t.

Why Do Cats Like Catnip?

When nepetalactone is released, it is believed to attract cats that can smell it. Once cats are attracted to it, they will roll in it and rub themselves against it, which causes the oils in the plant to release.

It is believed that the chemical triggers sensors in the brain that make the cat feel happy. Different cats respond differently to this, with some charging around and showing signs of hyperactivity and others becoming more mellow and subdued.

Catnip effects usually last around 10 minutes, and a cat will not usually be attracted to the smell again for the next several hours after first reacting. The amount of catnip that a cat smells and inhales will affect the strength and duration of the high that they get.

Not all cats react to catnip, it is estimated that approximately 2/3 of cats will display some behaviour when exposed to it. Some may not notice it at all, while others will investigate but show no signs of a response. It is believed that kittens are not susceptible to catnip and its chemicals until they are over 3 months of age.

It is also worth noting that catnip can have the same attractive and intoxicating effect on cats of all species and sizes. This includes tigers and lions.

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Uses for Catnip

The attraction of catnip means that it can be used for a variety of purposes:

  • Pleasure – Simply put, your cat enjoys the smell, the sensation, and even the taste of catnip. And as long as you don’t let your cat eat too much, it doesn’t cause them any harm. It is a good way to provide a little occasional treat.
  • Training – Cats respond well to reward-based training. It can also be used to encourage your cat to rest or scratch in certain areas over others. Catnip can benefit you and your cat when used for training.
  • Attraction – Most cat owners have endured the experience of spending a small fortune on a new cat bed or scratch post only to have their delightful feline turn their noses up at the new item. Generally, they do this because they don’t know or trust the smell of that new scratch post. Sprinkling some catnip on the post can encourage your cats to investigate, which will help them get used to the item and encourage them to use it.

Is Catnip Dangerous to Cats?

Catnip is classed as toxic by ASPCA because it can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but at the same time, it is considered safe (in small amounts) among many cat experts. It is recommended to discuss its use with your vet to understand when and how much you can use at a time. If you have multiple cats, giving catnip to just one cat may cause competition that can lead to fighting.

a Siamese lynx point cat lies down on the floor sprinkled with catnip and lick her paw
Photo Credit: Pixel Cat Photo, Shutterstock



Catnip is an attractant and stimulant for cats that can cause some to become highly energetic but may cause some to become sleepy and lethargic. Some cats do not respond to catnip at all, but if yours is sensitive to the smell, it will probably be able to easily smell it across the house and potentially from even further afield.

Catnip is not believed to be dangerous and can be used for training or to attract your cat to new items and toys that they have otherwise ignored.

Featured Image Credit: Scalia Media, Shutterstock

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