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Home > Cats > Why Do Cats Love to Roll Around in Catnip? Vet Approved Facts & FAQ

Why Do Cats Love to Roll Around in Catnip? Vet Approved Facts & FAQ

Gray Cat Enjoying Fresh Catnip

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

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

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Cat parents know that their feline companions love catnip! This herb either blisses our cats out or makes them wild and crazy. Either way, it’s fun for kitties and fun for us humans to watch. You might have noticed that sometimes your pet starts rolling around in the catnip you’ve sprinkled around. Ever wondered why they do that?

There are a few reasons your favorite feline is rolling around in catnip, but the main one is likely because your cat is trying to release the oils that give them that feline “high”. Here’s a closer look at those reasons, along with some frequently asked questions about cats and catnip. Keep reading!


How Catnip Works

What exactly is catnip, and how does it work? Catnip is an herb from the mint family, and though you might think the plant itself gives your kitty that nice buzzed feeling, it doesn’t. Instead, it’s an oil found in the plant, which is called nepetalactone. Once your feline companion gets a big whiff of the nepetalactone, it’s thought that the oil binds to receptors in the nose. When this binding occurs, neurons that go to the brain are stimulated, and once they hit the brain, your kitty’s “happy receptors” activate. And that’s what gives your cat their “high”.

And once that happens, you’ll see your pet engaging in any number of behaviors, including:

  • Rolling around in the catnip
  • Getting the zoomies
  • Playing more
  • Sniffing the catnip
  • Purring and meowing
  • Batting away imaginary items
  • Sleeping
a Siamese lynx point cat lies down on the floor sprinkled with catnip and lick her paw
Image Credit: Pixel Cat Photo, Shutterstock

Why Is My Cat Rolling in Catnip?

So, why is your cat rolling around in catnip? The biggest reason kitty is doing this is because rolling around in the catnip helps them get that whiff of nepetalactone needed to get that “high” and the stimulation benefit from it. Catnip that’s been inhaled can be especially stimulating, allowing your pet to go a bit wild for a little while (always fun, plus it’s great exercise for your cat!). There are other benefits of catnip, too, but this plant should be consumed rather than sniffed for those.

Your cat may also be rolling around in catnip to reduce the risk of parasitic infection. In the wild, big cats such as tigers roll in catnip to prevent mites and other insects from getting on them. These parasites can harm your pet’s health, as well as cause discomfort. In particular, the iridoids in catnip can help repel mosquitoes, saving kitty from itching, discomfort, and possible illness.

Finally, rolling around in catnip releases oils that can help mask your cat’s natural scent. This is helpful in the wild, as it aids big cats in hunting (if prey can’t smell them, they have an easier time being stealthy), so it might seem odd for your cat to do this since you feed them. But this reason for rolling in catnip may be done from pure instinct rather than anything else.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Catnip

Still have some questions about catnip and felines? Here are a few of the more frequently asked questions about this plant.

Can my cat overdose on catnip by rolling in it?

This herb won’t cause overdose in felines at all, regardless of whether they roll in or consume it. However, if your pet eats too much catnip, it could result in stomach upset, diarrhea, or vomiting.

How long does the catnip effect last?

The catnip effect only lasts for 10 minutes or so. And after that, catnip won’t affect your kitty again for at least half an hour.

gray cat enjoying fresh catnip
Image Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

Do all cats react to catnip?

They do not! Kittens under 6 months won’t respond to catnip, and only 70%–80% of felines in general will react. Whether catnip affects a cat or not appears to be hereditary.

If catnip doesn’t affect my cat, can I give them something else that will have a similar effect?

You can! Silvervine is another plant that has similar effects as catnip; while it doesn’t contain nepetalactone, it does have compounds that are like them.


Final Thoughts

There are a few reasons your cat loves to roll around in catnip, but the main one is likely because your cat is trying to release the oils that give them that feline “high”. They may also be rolling around to reduce the chances of parasitic infections, repel mosquitoes, or satisfy the instinct to cover their scent. If your pet doesn’t react to catnip, though, don’t worry! You can try giving them silvervine, a plant similar to catnip with similar effects.

Featured Image Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

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