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Why Do Cats Like Catnip & What Is It Good For?

Posted by on 6/1/2023

A single stalk of a catnip plant

What comes to mind when you think of catnip?

You’re not alone if your answer is simply “cats.” Despite the herb’s popularity among our feline friends, we humans may not know very much about catnip and its uses.

However, catnip has been used by humans dating back to ancient Roman times. It has been historically revered for its ability to promote a restful night’s sleep, among several other uses. Its use among humankind has lost popularity with the acceleration of modern medicine, but its popularity with our feline friends has kept the herb a staple within the pet industry.

Want to learn more about this ancient herb? Read on to find answers to your questions about the versatile catnip plant.

So, What IS Catnip?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a member of the mint family. It is a highly-adaptable plant that can be found all over the world and is often grown ornamentally (it can grow up to three feet tall) and for its ability to survive drought and repel insects. Interestingly enough, however, catnip is also a strong attractor for butterflies!

Much like mint, catnip can grow out of control if not kept in check, so if you’d like to add it to your garden, try planting it in pots.

A gray cat rubbing its face against an outdoor catnip plant

Why Do Cats Like Catnip So Much?

Cats like catnip because they are attracted to the compound nepetalactone, which can be extracted from the leaves, stems, and flower buds of the catnip plant. The highest concentration of nepetalactone is found in the buds, which is why quality catnip should always have flower buds, and not just leaf, in it. This is why catnip is often referred to as “Catnip Herb” and not just “Catnip Leaf.”

The stimulating effect is prompted either when cats detect the compound through scent or by physically ingesting the plant.

How the cat interacts with catnip will vary the response to the herb. If the response is triggered through scent, cats will instantly feel energized — rolling, running, and leaping are all common behaviors.

If a cat physically ingests catnip, the effects are slightly different and elicit a “mellowing out” response that may include behaviors like drooling and zoning out.

Whether catnip is smelled or eaten, the euphoric experience typically lasts up to 15 minutes.

Even big cats like tigers, lions, and leopards have been shown to react to catnip! Even in low doses, scientific studies have shown these cats to display similar behavior to their domesticated counterparts.

What Is Catnip Good For?

Some people wonder about the health benefits of catnip for cats. Depending on your cat, catnip can provide quite a few health benefits for your feline friend.

When ingested, the mellowing effect of catnip can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and even depression. This effect can also help cats cope with getting bathed, should it ever become necessary to wash their skin or fur.

The energizing effect cats experience while smelling catnip can also provide an additional health benefit — getting more exercise. Promoting exercise is especially important for older indoor cats, who often become lethargic over time.

Though catnip is often likened to a drug, it should be noted that it is perfectly safe for your feline to eat. It is not addictive, and cats will not “overdose” by eating too much of the herb. If your cat happens to ingest a large quantity of catnip, there is a slight chance they could experience an upset stomach, if at all.  

Do all Cats Like Catnip?

If your cat does not seem to react to catnip, that’s perfectly normal. Experts believe only 50% of cats are predisposed to react to catnip, as it’s believed to be a hereditary trait. Kittens also typically do not respond to catnip until over 6 months of age.

Time to Treat Your Cat!

For all your cat’s catnip needs, SF Herb is your one-stop-shop. Throw together a DIY catnip toy stuffed with dried catnip herb or high-potency catnip buds for your feline friend, and enjoy watching a few minutes of hilarious responses. 

Want to learn more about catnip? Don’t hesitate — reach out to the team of experts at SF Herb any time!