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What is Catnip and How Does it Affect Cats?

what is catnip

If you are a cat lover and enjoy watching funny cat videos there is no doubt that you’ve seen cats going crazy from catnip. Whenever a cat sees or smells this green plant it starts acting strangely. For that reason, many people wonder what is catnip and what does it do to cats? How does it affect them?

Keep on reading to find out more about this interesting plant.

What Is Catnip? – Short explanation

This plant, also known by its Latin name as Nepeta cataria, is a common herb that is part of the mint family Labiatae. Catnip is a plant that can grow up to three feet in height and its flowers bloom from late spring into late autumn. It produces green-brown leaves and it shares many features with the mint that we are all familiar with. The main purpose of catnip leaves is to make tea and its flowers can help in reducing coughs. Some natural bug sprays also contain this plant.

But why do cats react funny when they sense catnip? – It contains an active ingredient called nepetalactone. So, let’s see how this ingredient affects cats and why do they change their behavior around it.

what is catnip
Image by R. E. Beck from Pixabay

How Does It Affect Your Cat?

Basically, the ingredient that we’ve mentioned nepetalactone is a sort of essential oil that alters the cats’ behavior. In fact, it’s worth mentioning that this ingredient has the same effect on domestic and wild cats as well. So, you can see lions or other wildcats react in the same way if they smell catnip. It acts as a feline attractant because it is released when the plant’s coat bulbs rupture. For that reason, cats are usually chewing on the catnip in order to release more nepetalactone.

What Does it Actually Do to your Cat?

First of all, it’s important to point out that kittens don’t usually react to catnip. Once they reach sexual maturity cats start sensing it and reacting to it. The reason is that the pathway to the brain is hormonal and when it gets in contact with the cat it binds to receptors on the sensory neurons in the nasal cavity. This activates some areas in the brain that control behavior and emotions. Hence, when cats smell catnip they act like female cats in heat, a behavior that is common for both males and females.

Once they are stimulated by this plant, cats start rubbing their chin, nose, and body to it, or sniff it and lick it. Some cats may be much more excited when they smell catnip, while others get much calmer. However, it is rare that cats act aggressively around catnip.

what is catnip
Image by CatCrazy from Pixabay

Is Catnip Safe for Cats?

The effects of this plant are short-term and can last from 10 to 15 minutes. Also, it is considered safe for cats, so you don’t have to worry about exposing your cat to too much catnip. If you’re wondering can cats overdose on catnip the answer is no. In reality, they know when they’ve had enough of it and will walk away when they are fed up with it. There may be some minor side effect from it which is a mild stomach upset. Therefore, it’s recommended that you only let your cat enjoy catnip every few weeks.

In conclusion, catnip is non-toxic and has short-lasting effects on cats. For that reason, there is no harm in giving it to your cat for a while and see how it reacts.

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