What is catnip?

Last Updated 19 January 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle Veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski, BVSc.

You've heard about catnip - the mysterious herb known for getting kitties 'high'. But what is catnip? Does catnip really get your cat 'high'? And is catnip safe?

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Skip to a section:

1. What is catnip?

2. What does catnip do to cats?

3. What percentage of cats are actually effected by catnip?

4. Is catnip safe for cats?

5. The best catnip products in Australia

1. What is Catnip?

Catnip, or as it is botanically known, Nepata Cataria, is a herb from the mint family that hails from Europe and Asia. Renowned for causing bizarre behaviours in cats - well, even more 'bizarre' than usual feline behaviour! - this leafy green can be given to your cat fresh from the garden, pre-dried or even in the form of a liquid spray.


2. What does Catnip do to cats?

The behavioural effects of catnip on some cats is remarkable and easily observed. For a period of 10-20 minutes, affected cats show increased excitement and playfulness. Rolling, rubbing, sniffing, drooling and excessive vocalisation are common responses to catnip exposure.

Behind the scenes, the brain is responding to an oil called Nepatalactone which is found in the plant's leaves and stem. This oil is absorbed by tissues in the nose and it binds to receptors that stimulate sensory neurons. Nepatalactone activates the brain similarly to mating pheromones which may explain the almost 'sexual' nature to some exhibited behaviours.

3. What percentage of cats are affected by catnip?

Does catnip affect all cats?

Not all cats are affected by catnip. Approximately 20-30% of cats are not affected by catnip at all, and kittens under six months and elderly cats are generally indifferent to the herb.

Genetics seems to play a role in whether your cat is sensitive to the herb or not. Whether a cat will react seems to run in the family. Parents that are unaffected by catnip often have immune offspring.

Lions and tigers feel the effects of catnip, too!

Do big cats get affected by catnip? Aside from our domestic kitties, big cats like lions, tigers and cheetahs also enjoy the effects of this pleasurable stimulant. However, when it comes to humans or dogs, the reaction is quite the opposite and its uses are more effective as a sedative.

4. Is catnip safe for cats?

Yes! In moderation, catnip is shown to be harmless in cats and does not have addictive qualities. Like any food, excessive overeating of catnip can result in some tummy upsets but most cats know their limits (certainly better than a lot of humans!) and will refrain from overdosing.

Catnip can actually be quite beneficial as it encourages exercise and play while the euphoric feeling it provides can also help with cats suffering from anxiety.

Now that you know all about this intoxicating herb, will you let Mittens cut loose? A pinch of catnip is all you need to reveal the prancing, purring inner kitten within your grumpy tomcat.

5. The Best Catnip Products in Australia

How to give your cat catnip? It might surprise you to learn that there are many different ways you can give your cat a lovely dose of catnip. Many soft cat toys are stuffed with catnip, or contain a removable velcro section for repleneshing with fresh catnip.

You can purchase grow-your-own catnip kits, catnip-stuffed toys, dried catnip, and even catnip spray. We've outlined the top-selling catnip products below:

Different types of catnip products include...

1. Paws for Life Soft Catnip-Filled Toys - The range from Paws for Life includes many catnip-stuffed plush toys, available in a wide range of fun colours and characters. Some of the most popular include The Avo, The Unicorn, Birthday Cupcakes, and The Mermaid Toy.

2. Grow-Your Own Catnip Kits - give your kitty fresh catnip every day with a plant of their own! Cats love to munch on catnip leaves, just like cat grass. Not only does it give them that special 'buzz' but it also helps increase their daily fibre intake, which can reduce furballs and gastrointestinal issues.

3. Dried Catnip - purchase jars of dried catnip for use repleneshing your kitty's toys, or for sprinkling in puzzle feeders and interactive toys!

4. Catnip Spray - spray on surfaces or on your cat's toys to infuse the lovely effects of catnip throughout your home.

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