Cat, Cat Behaviour

Why Are Cats Attracted To Catnip & How You Can Take Advantage Of That


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Catnip, the green leafy plant that is sometimes referred to as “weed for cats”. It’s because they make our cats behave comically. Their eyes dilate and they either seemingly daze off or get an extra spurt of energy as though they’re drunk or under the influence of recreational drugs. 

But the question is, what is catnip, why do some cats go crazy for it and how can we use that to our advantage?

What Is Catnip?

Catnip or Nepeta cataria is a herb that belongs to the mint family, Lamiacea together with other herbs such as rosemary, sage, oregano, and basil. This herb’s leaves and flowers contain a chemical called nepetalactone which stimulates the “feel good” areas of your cat’s brain. This results in a range of reactions from mellow purring to frenzied acrobatics for up to 15 minutes.

However, not all cats would experience a reaction to nepetalactone oils and the response is believed to be hereditary. Cats under the age of nine weeks and senior cats are also said to not neccesarily experience a reaction from being exposed to catnip.

The Yeps & Nopes Of Catnip

When using catnip the main thing you should remember is that a little goes a long way. It should be given in small doses as it is estimated that cats can smell catnip at a ratio of 1:1 billion in the air. 

While it is rarely possible for your cat to overdose on catnip, over inhaling or ingesting it can cause them to feel cranky or even nauseous. If you’re noticing that they’re seemingly having too much of it, simply remove the catnip or catnip toy and they’ll soon be back to their normal selves. But should they exhibit signs of vomiting or diarrhea, you should notify your vet.

Besides that, you might want to hold off the catnip for aggressive cats. With their pre-existing behaviour of being the “alpha” and creating a ruckus, getting intoxicated on catnip could only further lower their inhibitions and make them feel like they could get away with anything (perhaps even murder 🙊).

Also, because catnip’s potency is due to its oils, the effects actually have an expiry date. The trick to keep dried catnip effective is to store them in the freezer. 

Ways To Use Catnip

Catnip products come in various forms such as fresh plants, oils, dried herbs, treats and sprays and even bubbles. As it is a mood enhancer, it can be used to encourage positive behaviour or as a treat.

Some ways to use it would be:

  • Spraying liquid catnip on their favourite toy to give it that extra bit of fun
  • Sprinkling the dried leaves in an area you’d like them to be interested in like a new cat tower or scratching board
  • Spraying it on a scratching post to keep their sharp claws off your beautiful settees
  • Spraying it on a toy for a lethargic cat to chase around with the extra spike in energy and motivation
  • As a natural mosquito repellant although it’s not effective when applied to skin

Also here is a fun fact: catnip has the complete opposite effect on dogs as it does on cats. It is safe for their ingestion, but instead of stimulating dogs, the herb acts as a sedative instead.

So for dogs, catnip can be used in stressful situations or to improve their sleeping patterns. 


In conclusion, using catnip with your cat is not only simple but is a useful and fun way to encourage positive behaviours in your cat. However, if you’re unsure whether your cat would benefit from it, start first in very small amounts to test the waters and take it slowly from there!

Feature Image Credit: Andrew Martilla

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