What does catnip do to cats?

Cat enjoying a catnip

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Our feline friends may go gaga for it, but how many of us actually know what catnip is? Our resident vet does – and so we asked her the questions nipping at our minds. What does catnip do to cats? Is catnip safe? And how much catnip is too much? Our vet advice answers all.

What is catnip?

Less commonly known as nepeta cataria, catnip is a natural herb that releases a volatile oil called nepetalactone. This nepetalactone from catnip plants mimics feline pheromones, often sending cats on catnip into a state of euphoria. Amongst other things, catnip is how to keep a house cat happy. There are two ways that catnip can affect your kitty:

  1. It can act as a sedative when eaten – you may find yourself with a sleepy feline if your cat has eaten a catnip leaf or there was some catnip in their cat food.
  2. It can act as a stimulant when sniffed – your cat may be bouncing off the walls (hopefully not literally) after playing with catnip toys or smelling catnip spray.


Catmint in Eynsford, England

Is catnip safe?

Yes, catnip – also known as Catmint – is completely safe. It is not harmful or addictive in any way. It’s even safe for us humans (except for pregnant women) – a nice hot cup of catnip tea can be a soothing bedtime drink.

A question that our vet is frequently asked is “can catnip make my cat aggressive?”. Catnip sometimes triggers aggressive behaviour, so if you live in a multi-cat household, it’s a good idea to introduce catnip one cat at a time. Keep a cat with an aggressive response separated until it has worn off – this probably only lasts 20-30 minutes at most. Try playing with one cat with a catnip toy and see how they react before offering another catnip toy to your second (third, fourth) cat.

What are the benefits of catnip for cats?

  • Catnip encourages playful, predatory behaviour. In short, it brings out their naturally wild side.
  • Catnip can give inactive, lazy, or overweight cats the motivation to exercise.
  • Catnip toys for cats are a great boredom breaker, especially for indoor cats.
  • When eaten, catnip can help your feline friend to drift off to sleep.

5 ways to give catnip to your cat

  1. Mix some catnip into their evening meal – they’ll be catnapping in no time.
  2. Lace or spray some catnip onto your cat’s scratching post or gift them with one that includes catnip from the off.
  3. Fill a KONG with loose leaf catnip and watch as they master the challenge.
  4. Pre-filled catnip toys are a great way to get your cat up and moving. This can be especially helpful for overweight cats.
  5. Grab some seeds or a young pot at a local garden centre for your garden or balcony. Your cat will love the endless supply of fresh catnip, or you can dry it to use later.

Our articles are not a replacement for face-to-face vet advice. It’s important to consult with your vet on a regular basis to raise any pet concerns that you may have.

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