Why Do Cats Like Catnip?

Cats are curious creatures, always on the prowl for new experiences and sensations. And when it comes to catnip, their behavior takes a turn for the bizarre and fascinating. This plant from the mint family has a potent effect on felines, causing them to roll, flip, and meow with wild abandon. But what is it about catnip that cats find so irresistible?

If you’re a cat lover like me, chances are you’ve witnessed the strange behavior that ensues when your furry friend gets a whiff of this fragrant herb. But understanding the science behind it is another matter entirely. What we do know is that catnip contains a chemical called nepetalactone, which triggers an intense reaction in cats.

But why do cats go crazy for catnip? In this blog post, we’ll explore the history of this mysterious plant and its effects on feline behavior. We’ll delve into how catnip works its magic on our feline friends and uncover the reasons behind their love affair with this potent herb.

Whether you’re a seasoned cat owner or simply curious about the science behind catnip, join me as we explore the fascinating world of feline behavior and discover why our furry companions can’t resist the allure of this magical plant.

How Does Catnip Affect Cats?

This beloved herb, from the mint family, contains a compound known as nepetalactone that is irresistible to cats. But what exactly happens when cats are exposed to catnip?

For starters, the nepetalactone in catnip stimulates the pleasure and reward receptors in cats’ brains. This euphoric sensation can cause some cats to roll around, purr, or even drool in delight. It’s like they’re experiencing a natural high.

But that’s not all catnip has to offer. It can also awaken cats’ hunting instincts, making them more playful and alert. Your furry friend may start chasing imaginary prey or playing more vigorously with their toys.

However, not all cats react to catnip in the same way. Some may show no interest at all, while others may become agitated or aggressive. The reason for this remains unknown, but it could be due to individual sensitivity or genetics.

It’s essential to use catnip in moderation and under supervision. Overexposure can lead to vomiting and diarrhea in some cats. Pregnant cats and kittens under six months old should avoid catnip entirely as the effects on their developing brains are not yet fully understood.

The Chemical Compound in Catnip – Nepetalactone

The answer lies in the chemical compound nepetalactone, which is found in the leaves of the catnip plant.

When cats smell or ingest nepetalactone, it sets off a chain reaction in their brain, resulting in some entertaining behavioral changes. You may have witnessed your cat rolling, rubbing, and drooling after being exposed to catnip – this is all thanks to the power of nepetalactone.

Interestingly, not all cats are affected by this potent compound. About 30% of cats do not react to catnip because they have a genetic trait that affects the sensitivity of their vomeronasal organ. This specialized organ in their nose detects pheromones and other scent molecules, and when nepetalactone binds to receptors in this organ, it triggers a response in the brain.

It’s also worth noting that kittens do not react to catnip until they are approximately six months old. So if your new kitten doesn’t seem to be affected by catnip yet, don’t worry – they will eventually.

Besides its effects on cats, nepetalactone can also be used as an insect repellent against mosquitoes and flies. It even has a calming effect on humans and is sometimes used as a natural remedy for insomnia and anxiety.

Evolutionary Traits and Hunting Instincts

It’s rooted in their evolutionary traits and hunting instincts. After all, cats are natural predators, and their ancestors had to hunt for survival. That’s where the active ingredient in catnip, nepetalactone, comes in.

Nepetalactone is a volatile oil that triggers a response in cats’ brains when they smell or ingest it. Specifically, it stimulates the olfactory receptors in their noses, which then sends messages to the brain’s hypothalamus and amygdala. These parts of the brain are responsible for regulating emotions, behavior, and motivation.

When cats consume catnip, it can make them feel good and motivated to play or hunt. Scientists believe that this response is linked to cats’ evolutionary history as hunters. In the wild, cats would consume the pheromones given off by prey animals, making them more alert and responsive to their environment.

But even though domesticated cats no longer need to hunt for survival, they still retain many of their wild ancestors’ hunting instincts. These instincts include stalking, pouncing, and playing with prey. When cats consume catnip, it can trigger these instincts and make them more playful and energetic.

So why does your cat go wild for catnip? It’s because of their innate need to hunt and play. The scent of catnip mimics the pheromones of prey animals, making your cat more alert and excited. And once they start playing with a catnip toy or treat, their natural hunting instincts kick in, leading to hours of fun playtime.

Not All Cats Respond to Catnip

In fact, about 30% of cats don’t react to it at all. But why is this the case? Let’s dive into the fascinating world of catnip sensitivity.

One of the main reasons why some cats don’t respond to catnip is genetics. The sensitivity to catnip is an inherited trait, and if a cat doesn’t have the necessary genes, they won’t be affected by it. This means that some cats are simply not wired to react to the plant’s active ingredient, nepetalactone.

But genetics isn’t the only factor at play here. Kittens under three months old don’t usually respond to catnip either. They need to reach sexual maturity before they develop the sensitivity to nepetalactone. So don’t worry if your little furry friend shows no interest in catnip – they might just need some time to grow into it.

Another thing to consider is your cat’s mood. Just like humans, cats can have off days where they’re not in the mood for playtime or exploring new things. If a cat isn’t feeling playful or curious, they’re less likely to be interested in catnip. So if your cat seems uninterested in their favorite plant, try again later when they’re in a better mood.

Finally, it’s important to remember that there are other plants that can have a similar effect on cats, such as valerian root or silver vine. These plants contain different active ingredients that might appeal more to your feline friend. So if your cat doesn’t respond to catnip, don’t give up just yet. Experiment with different plants and see what works best for them.

Moderation is Key

That’s why it’s important to remember that moderation is key when it comes to catnip.

Catnip is generally safe for cats, but overindulging can lead to negative consequences. Some cats may become aggressive or hyperactive, while others may experience vomiting and diarrhea. This is why it’s crucial to observe your cat’s behavior and adjust the amount of catnip accordingly.

When introducing your cat to catnip for the first time, start with a small amount and watch how they react. If they seem to enjoy it, you can gradually increase the amount given. However, if you notice any negative effects, it’s best to stop giving them catnip altogether.

In addition to moderation, the quality of the catnip you provide also matters. Look for high-quality, organic catnip that has been grown without the use of harmful pesticides or chemicals. This will ensure that your cat is getting the purest form of the plant without any potentially harmful additives.

Pregnant Cats and Kittens

While this plant is generally safe for adult cats, it can have harmful effects on feline moms-to-be and their little ones.

The active ingredient in catnip, nepetalactone, can prompt uterine contractions in pregnant cats. This could lead to premature labor or even a miscarriage. To avoid any risks, it’s best to steer clear of catnip altogether during pregnancy.

Kittens, on the other hand, may not be able to handle the effects of catnip due to their developing nervous systems. The overstimulation from catnip could cause stress and discomfort, hindering their growth and development.

For pregnant cats and kittens, a stress-free environment is crucial for proper growth and development. Introducing catnip may cause unnecessary stress and discomfort. Therefore, it’s best to avoid giving catnip to pregnant cats and kittens until they are fully grown and their reproductive systems have developed properly.

If you suspect that your pregnant cat or kitten has ingested catnip, keep a close eye on them for any signs of discomfort or unusual behavior. Don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you observe anything concerning.


To sum it up, catnip is a captivating plant that has an irresistible effect on cats. Thanks to its active ingredient, nepetalactone, felines can’t resist the urge to roll around, flip over, and meow with delight. This compound stimulates the pleasure and reward receptors in their brains, resulting in euphoric sensations that make them feel fantastic and motivated to play or hunt.

However, it’s worth noting that not all cats react to catnip in the same way. Genetics also plays a significant role in whether a kitty will respond to it or not. Additionally, moderation is critical when giving your furry friend catnip. Overindulging can lead to unpleasant consequences such as vomiting and diarrhea.

It’s also essential to remember that pregnant cats and kittens should steer clear of catnip altogether as it can cause uterine contractions and overstimulation respectively.

Overall, by understanding why cats adore catnip so much, we can provide better care for our feline companions.