Why Do Cats Love Catnip? Here’s the Reason!

Written by

Amy Sawy

Veterinarian. DVM


Joseph M. Plummer

Veterinarian, DVM, MVZ

why do cats love catnip

Our pet cats are dignified animals. They occasionally do strange things like pee all over our walls, but for the most part, they act like kings and queens of our abode.

However, our feline friend drops this pretense and simply goes crazy when presented with one thing: catnip. Why do cats love catnip so much? Because it makes them feel good!

Reasons Why Cats Love Catnip

Most cats enjoy catnip as much as they love boxes.

Cats roll in catnip, sniff it, chew it, and generally look like they enjoy themselves immensely after having it.

What is it, and how do cats feel after smelling it? How come not all cats enjoy catnip? Is it bad for cats or are there any benefits? Let’s look into all these questions and more!

What is catnip?


Known by the scientific name Nepeta cataria, catnip is a plant from the mint family. Its arrowhead-shaped leaves with tiny, pointy edges and thick, hairy stems are recognizable.

The catnip plant grows across Europe, Asia, and North America. It sprouts freely in the wild, and many people grow catnip in their home gardens.

Known by the scientific name Nepeta cataria, catnip is a plant from the mint family. Its arrowhead-shaped leaves with tiny, pointy edges and thick, hairy stems are recognizable.

The catnip plant grows across Europe, Asia, and North America. It sprouts freely in the wild, and many people grow catnip in their home gardens.

How does catnip work?

Catnip releases an oil called nepetalactone. When cats smell nepetalactone, a chemical reaction happens in their brain that releases the pet’s “happy hormones” or pheromones.

The smell passes through a cat’s nasal passages, stimulates special receptors, and fills it with a sense of overwhelming happiness, explaining why cats respond the way they do to this plant.

Some have even said it is comparable to, but not the same as, the effect of hallucinogenic drugs on people.

Cats primarily smell catnip. They take a whiff of the stuff or chew on it to purportedly release more nepetalactone into the air. Though less commonly done, they can also actually eat the catnip.

How Does a Cat Act Towards Catnip?


Each cat’s reaction to the plant is different. Some become incredibly wild and active, while some become relaxed, languid balls of fur. They may growl, purr, drool, meow, and roll around in catnip for a while.

House cats aren’t the only felines affected by the plant – big cats, including lions, tigers, and leopards go wild over the smell of catnip’s nepetalactone too!

Depending on how much catnip your cat ingested, the plant’s effects typically last only 10-15 minutes. After that time, they become immune to this herb for about two hours while their systems “reset.”

Other cats, however, show no reaction, causing some pet owners on Reddit to wonder why.

Frequently Asked Questions


Why don’t some cats like catnip?

Do some cats not like catnip? Yes, because it’s not in their genes. The trait of enjoying the plant’s effects is passed down through generations, and only about 70% of house cats have it.

Here’s a fun fact: Cat owners have observed that this gene is almost non-existent in Australian cats!

Young kittens and older cats don’t react to the plant either, and you should avoid giving catnip to them. Typically, kittens like catnip only when they reach the catnip kitten age of 3-6 months.

Can cats get addicted to catnip?

No, cats will not get addicted to or dependent on it.

There have also been no reports of cats overdosing on catnip to death. Cats do know when they’ve had enough. But if they accidentally have too much of it, it will simply upset their stomachs and cause vomiting.

Cats can develop a kind of long-term immunity to catnip, though – the more often they have it, the less potent the plant is for them. Therefore, giving your cat too much catnip runs the risk of them losing the ability to enjoy it.

Is catnip bad for cats?

Only in big doses is catnip toxic to cats. And even then, it rarely results in death – only in vomiting and possibly diarrhea.

There are, in fact, even some benefits of catnip to cats and cat owners:

  • Catnip lowers your cat’s stress levels and helps them relax when agitated.
  • Catnip can help with any bloating and stomach pain your cat may be experiencing.
  • Catnip can help you – many use it as a powerful training aid for your pets!

How can catnip be used for training my cat?

You can simply give your cat its catnip anytime for entertainment and as a treat. There are, in fact, many toys, products, and other items with catnip inside available on the market.

But remember: cats attracted to catnip will go towards it when they see it. Many feline owners use this fact to their advantage and use the plant as a training tool!

You can give catnip as a reward to your pet after it follows your instructions.

You can also sprinkle some dried catnip on their bed, litter box, cat toys, and scratching post to encourage them to use those areas and items appropriately instead of random spots around your home.

Do other animals like catnip?

Interestingly enough, no! Dogs, rabbits, mice, and even poultry did not show any reaction to the plant in tests – only felines seem affected by it.

It is suggested that the plant is named “catnip” in the first place because of how CATS react to it.

Mosquitoes and bugs seem to dislike it, though, causing catnip to be used as an insect repellent now and then.

On the other hand, humans can also consume catnip with much milder effects. Catnip has a mild sedative effect on us and is commonly used to cure headaches or simply to wind down in the evenings.

There are also several reported catnip benefits for hair. Rinsing your hair in catnip tea can give you softer and shinier hair with fewer split ends.

What are some alternatives to catnip?

“Why doesn’t my cat like catnip?” you wonder, watching your pet ignore the gift you excitedly shared with them.

Your cat may, unfortunately, fall into the 30% who do not possess the catnip-enjoying gene.

If that is the case, you can try giving them Silver Vine or Valerian Root instead. These plants release similar smells and reportedly have the same general effect as catnip.


Why do cats love catnip so much? Because they have a very keen sense of smell and love the scent of catnip! The plant can provide a few minutes of entertainment for you and them and is perfectly safe for your pet.

So the next time you notice your cats eyes on catnip, let them have some. Then, you may want to take videos of how your cat reacts and post the clips online.

Consider this your sign to launch your pet’s career as the next viral Instagram or Tiktok cat!

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