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What Is Catnip and How Does It Affect My Cat? (With Infographic)

Nicole Cosgrove

If you are a cat owner, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of catnip. It’s an herb that you can grow in your garden, and you can find it in many different forms at the pet store or grocery store. While it comes in many varieties, it’s most popular as a ground herb that closely resembles marijuana.

Since many cats behave differently when they are near it, many people consider catnip to be cat marijuana, but we’re here to explain that this herb is not toxic and won’t harm your pet. If you would like to learn more about catnip and how it affects your cat, keep reading while we learn as much as we can about this interesting cat treat.divider-cat

What Is Catnip?

what is cat nip
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Catnip is a shrub with light green leaves that grows easily in the United States. It produces fragrant white flowers and will have the stray cats in the neighborhood visiting your yard. It’s a member of the mint family and is safe to eat for both people and cats. It is not addictive to felines or humans.

Does Catnip Make Cats High?

do cats get high from catnip?
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Catnip produces a chemical called nepetalactone the cats breathe in, which temporarily stimulates opioid reward systems and can affect your cat’s emotions and behavior. So, in a sense, your cat does get “high” to some degree, but the effect only lasts a few minutes and is not addictive.

Is Catnip Bad for Cats?

No. Catnip is not bad for cats, but it’s more of a smelling herb than it is a food, and it can cause stomach problems if your cat eats too much of it at one time. If you’re feeding your cat fresh catnip, we recommend taking it away after a few minutes to prevent them from eating too much, which usually leads to vomiting a few hours later. Commercial catnip is usually finely ground, dry, and less potent. They also put only a small amount in the toys, which is not intended to be ingested.

Some owners warn that consuming too much catnip can cause disorientation and staggering. While we have never experienced these symptoms in any of our cats who enjoy catnip, we recommend you keep them in mind when offering this herb to your pet.

How Long Does It Take for Catnip to Kick In?

how does catnip effect cats
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Catnip kicks in extremely quickly. The nepetalactone binds to receptors in the nose, which quickly triggers a reaction in the brain. The effect is near-instantaneous, and many of our cats will start acting wild when we open the package, even if we’re several feet away.

How Long Does It Take for Catnip To Wear Off?

Catnip typically only lasts a short time before the strange behavior returns to normal. Cats usually settle down after about 5 minutes, and there seems to be a reset period of at least an hour before the catnip will work again.

Does Catnip Affect All Cats?

Unfortunately, catnip only affects about 60% of cats. Cats are also unaffected by catnip until they’re about six months old. Cats that are not affected by catnip will pay no attention to it and will usually prefer to eat other grasses and leaves instead.

How Does a Cat On Catnip Behave?

how does cat behave on cat nip?
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It’s hard to predict how your cat will behave on catnip, though it usually behaves the same way every time. Some cats will become very playful and chase their toys around the house, while others will become extremely affectionate and may roll on their back or rub their face on your legs and furniture. Playful cats can also become aggressive and scratch your hand or attack other cats, so you might need to separate them before providing this treat.

How Long Does Catnip Stay Fresh?

Ground catnip that you purchased from the store can last quite a while. We recommend keeping it sealed in its package and storing it in a cool dark place with low humidity. However, catnip-infused toys seem to lose their potency very quickly.

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Summary

Catnip is an herb that releases a special chemical that many cats are sensitive to, altering their behavior. It’s non-toxic, not addictive, and doesn’t have any lingering side effects, so it can make a great treat for cats that are sensitive to it. It’s also fun for us humans to watch our cats behave strangely.


Featured Image Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.