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Home > Cats > Why Do Some Cats Not React to Catnip? What Science Has to Say!

Why Do Some Cats Not React to Catnip? What Science Has to Say

cat sniffing dried catnip

Catnip can be a fun addition to your cat’s daily life. Catnip is often found in treats, scratchers, treats, and in a loose form that you can sprinkle where your cat might enjoy it.

We’ve all seen cats go crazy for catnip, often rolling in it or eating it, and then practicing their parkour around the house before crashing for a long nap. For some cats, though, there is no reaction to catnip. You might offer catnip to your cat and they just sniff it and walk away. It turns out that sensitivity to catnip is a genetic trait that only around 70%–80% of cats have.

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Why Do Cats React to Catnip?

Catnip has the ability to activate certain receptors within cats, making them feel happy, loving, or energetic. This euphoria can be attributed to a chemical in catnip called nepetalactone. This chemical causes cats to exhibit behaviors that are similar to how female cats in heat may act.

Catnip mimics pheromones that cats produce, leading to a sexualized response to the presence of the chemicals in it.

cat rolling around in catnip
Image Credit: Kassel95, Pixabay

Why Do Some Cats Not React to Catnip?

As not all cats have the genetic trait to be sensitive to catnip, there is a chunk of the domestic cat population that won’t react to catnip at all. Catnip also has no effect on cats that haven’t reached sexual maturity, so this generally applies to cats under 6 months of age. You likely won’t know if your cat has a sensitivity to catnip or not until they are at least 6 months old.

Cats that do have a sensitivity to catnip typically only feel the effects of the chemicals for around 10 minutes. After the “high” wears off, cats are immune to the effects of catnip for around 30 minutes. This doesn’t mean that your cat is immune to catnip all the time, though, so if your cat’s response to catnip only lasts for a few minutes and then doesn’t seem to happen again for a while, that’s a completely normal response and doesn’t mean your cat doesn’t have the gene to react to catnip.

Do All Cat Species React to Catnip?

No, not all species of cats react to catnip. We all know that domestic cats react to catnip, but what other cats are sensitive to the effects of the chemicals in catnip? Believe it or not, mountain lions, bobcats, lynxes, tigers, and jungle lions react to catnip the same way that domestic cats do, although they are also influenced by genetics that impact whether or not they react.

In one test performed by the Knoxville Zoo, lions and jaguars showed the strongest response to catnip. Tigers, mountain lions, and bobcats at the zoo showed a response to the catnip, but it was less strong than the lions and jaguars. The cheetahs at the park showed no interest in the catnip, choosing to not even approach it.

gray cat near catnip plants
Image Credit: Georgia Evans, Shutterstock

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In Conclusion

If your cat doesn’t show a reaction to catnip, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your cat. It’s a completely normal thing for some cats to show no interest in catnip. If your cat doesn’t react to catnip, you may consider introducing them to silvervine, which is a plant that causes a similar reaction as catnip. Some cats that don’t respond to catnip may show an interest in silvervine.

If your cat doesn’t react to either, then you may need to find games and toys that are attractive to your cat instead of using catnip for enrichment.


Featured Image Credit: Lightspruch, Shutterstock

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