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cat on catnip

Is Catnip Actually Good For Cats?

Cats, are extremely sensitive to catnip – it basically makes the roll on the ground, drooling, and mashing their face into wherever the catnip was sprinkled while it has essentially no effect on us.

What is Catnip?

Simply said – it is a plant called Nepeta cataria and is considered to be nonaddictive and completely harmless to cats. It’s native to Europe and Asia but now grows wildly all over, along roads and highways.

The plant produces a chemical called nepetalactone in microscopic bulbs that coat its leaves, stems, and seedpods and cats are inhaling it whether from a live plant, dried plant material, or an oil extract.

cat on catnip

How Cats Behave When They Smell Catnip?

When cats smell catnip their behavior changes they may rub their heads and body on the herb or jump, roll around, vocalize and salivate and it may take about 10 minutes to pass, after which the cat becomes temporarily immune to catnip’s effects for about 30 minutes. Catnip affects about only 70 to 80 percent of the cats and does not affect kittens until they are about six months old and begin to reach sexual maturity.

“If you put catnip on a scratching board, a cat will come along and sniff it, and then they’ll start rubbing their face, then drooling, then rolling in it,” says Jeff Grognet, a veterinarian who’s previously written articles about the effects of catnip.

“They seem to have a sense of euphoria when they’re doing all this, and then afterward, calmness. Once they’re finished reacting, and they just sit there, it’s like they’re basically just a little bit buzzed.” For about 30 minutes afterward, they sit seemingly immune to being further affected by more catnip.

One interesting thing about this reaction. “Catnip produces a very definite, repeatable response. A cat will pretty much do the exact same thing every time it smells it,” Grognet says. The cat isn’t rubbing their face and rolling in the catnip to get more of it (as I’d assumed), but simply because by inhaling the catnip compels them to do so.

Another difference between catnip and the drugs humans use is that not all cats are susceptible to it. It’s estimated that around 70 percent to 80 percent are affected, and that the trait is passed on genetically. “They either react or they don’t,” Grognet says. “There’s no in between.” Lots of wild cats, like lions and tigers, are also susceptible.

For the cats that are susceptible, there don’t appear to be any negative health effects, and they don’t develop a tolerance over time.

cat after catnip

How Humans React To Catnip?

Human brains are physiologically different from cat brains and people do not react to catnip the same way. Native Americans, however, once used catnip for the uncontrollable baby cries. It also serves as a mild sedative in some herbal teas. In alternative medicine, catnip is commonly recommended by herbalists to lessen migraine headaches and to relieve cramps, gas, indigestion, insomnia, nervousness and anorexia, or as an herbal paste to reduce swelling associated with arthritis and soft tissue injury.

As far back as the 1600s, Europeans used the plant as a mild sedative, brewing tea with its leaves, making juice from them, and even smoking or chewing them.

It also have one positive effect on humans. Back in the 1960s, scientists discovered that catnip’s active chemical acts as a mosquito repellant — one that’s actually more powerful than DEET, though it wears off more quickly. In fact, if you want a less harsh alternative to DEET, catnip-based mosquito repellants are still available and you can buy it on the web or in stores.

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