If there is a cliche which says that “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” then for cats, it should very well be “Catnips are a cat’s best friend.” Indeed, cats go crazy about it.

If you are a cat owner, then you might have seen how this herb can bring out strange but hilarious side of your cat’s personality.

Cats react to catnips it in a variety of fashion. Rolling around, flipping over, and generally being unusually hyperactive. However, you may have also noticed that this cat euphoria is short-lived, usually lasting for 10 mins before the cat hits reality and goes back to normal.

But what exactly is catnip? How is it able to bring about these strange behaviors from cats?


What Are Catnips?

Catnip is an herb that belongs to the mint family Labiatae, famous for its ability to make cats act a little crazy. It has many different species, and the common catnip belongs to the species Nepa Cataria. People sometimes refer to it as catswort, catnip, cat’s heal all, cat- play, or catwort.

Besides this, it is native to Europe as well as Asia, and since being introduced to its regions, have also become neutralized in Canada and America. Also, its common name is believed to have originated from Nepete, Italy.


How Are Catnips Being Used?

Currently, there are about 250 species of Catnip in the world. Some people use catnips as ornamental plants in some gardens because of its ability to withstand drought and repel different kinds of insects.

The flowering tops of catnips are used to make certain medications relieve various medical conditions. It includes insomnia, anxiety, migraines, cold and other respiratory disorders. People also use it widely as relief for different diseases. For example, fever, flu, indigestion, cramps, colic, flatulence, and other forms of gastrointestinal upset.

There can be different ways to use catnips. Some people apply it directly on their skin for relief of hemorrhoids and arthritis while some use it as a compress to relieve swelling. In some places, people smoke catnip medicinally to cure respiratory infections. They also use it recreationally for a little “high.” Companies also manufacture and commercially use this herb as insecticide or pesticide.


How Do Catnips Affect Cats?

Although reactions can vary from cat to cat, catnips can change a cat’s behavior dramatically. Some of the most common response include increase salivation and constant meowing. Sometimes, older cats exhibit behaviors they would otherwise show as kittens.

Catnips seem to make cats more playful and energetic, often rolling around in the ground with flailing paws in the air. It also appears to increase a cat’s interest in toys. For many cat owners, one of the most striking delights is witnessing the feline madness which arrives from catnip.


What Causes This “Catnip Behavior?”

If you watch a cat’s behavior towards catnips, you might think that what your cat is trying to do is to eat it. In reality, it’s the cat’s sniffing the herb that’s causing this behavior. The actual purpose of trying to eat the catnip is to scratch or bruise the leaf. It can cause the release of a compound which is sniffed by cats and causes the strange behavior.

Generally, fresh catnip that is bruised is more attractive to cats and prefers transplanted catnips than those growing from the seeds. However, there are still many instances where cats also seem to enjoy catnip plants grown from seeds.

The psychoactive quality of catnips comes from something that we know as nepetalactone. It is a compound which binds with the olfactory receptors found in a cat’s nose. These projects to the neurons located inside the olfactory bulb that activates the different areas of the brain which controls behavior and emotions.

This compound effectively triggers a neurological response which is almost similar to the way cats react to a sexual pheromone. Scientists are yet to find out why nepetalactone can elicit such reaction from felines.

However, what they do know is not all cats are sensitive to the effects of catnip. According to studies, it is an inherited trait. It can have the same impact with other members of the family including tigers and leopards.


Are Catnips Harmful to Cats?

Despite its crazy effects on felines, catnip seems to be relatively harmless. It is non-toxic and has no adverse effect when consumed by cats. Although felines go mad over it, catnips are not addictive.

The worst that may happen with the excessive intake is loose stools or diarrhea. But until someone takes it in moderation, Catnip is entirely safe for felines. Because of its safety, you can freely use it as a useful training aid or reward.


Why Do Some Cats Enjoy Catnips While Others Don’t?

There seems to be no specific group that can be classified based on their reaction towards catnip. Females or males, big or small, neutered or not, seem equally affected.

However, baby kittens who are less than eight weeks old seem immune to the behavioral effects of the catnip plant. They even show a particular aversion to it. Some senior cats also show a tendency of losing their ability to respond to catnip.

Around 33% of the total cat population does not respond to catnip anyway. Recent studies attribute this to genetics. Heredity plays a big part in determining a cat’s reaction to catnip. In other words, some cats may possess the catnip gene, and this genetic marker predisposes a cat to respond and react when exposed to the catnip plant. Those felines who are without this gene will show no reaction or behavioral change when exposed to it.



There have always been several schools of thought as to why catnip affects cats the way it does. Many cat owners see it as a magic potion which instantly gives their feline friends an entirely different persona.

It is interesting to know that there is herb which can cause a strange yet funny effect on cats, and yet pose no harm to them. But no matter how much we want our cats to indulge on their “happy meal,” we must serve everything in limits.

We should also make sure to keep the daily servings in controlled proportion. What’s more important is to love and care for our feline friends, so that they’ll stay genuinely happy with or without the help of catnips.


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