Catnip and the Benefits it Can Bring To Your Cats

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Cat Enjoying Catnip

Flehmen Reaction to the Catnip – Photo credit: Leonora Enking

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) was first described in 1753 by Linnaeus and originated in the Mediterranean. Catnip is a part of the mint family which contains nepetalacton as the active ingredient. Nepetalacton is well known for the behavioral impact it has on the feline family.

Catnip is also known as catmint, field balm, and catswort. There are currently about 250 species in the Nepeta genus which catnip belongs to. This herb is native to Asia and Europe, and is now growing throughout North America today.


The ingredient nepetalactone is found in the stems and leaves of the plant which causes cats to become high. Nepetalactone will cause a hallucinogenic effect in both large cats and small cats. However, for unknown reasons, the Tiger seems to be immune to catnip more than other felines. The time a cat remains in the hallucinogenic state is about five to ten minutes.

Your cat will likely turn into a furry race car once he has had contact with the catnip for about five seconds. Most cats usually jump and run around, drool, chew, roll, sniff, shake, and start rubbing against everything in sight.

Most people speculate that catnip produces a smell that is similar to a female cat in heat. Since catnip mimics the scent of a female cat in heat, it would stand to reason that male cats will be more responsive to catnip than females will be.

The way catnip works is that it enters through the scenting organ at the roof of the mouth which is called the Jacobson’s organ. When cats are exposed you might notice that your cat will make a weird facial expression, referred to as the flehmen reaction. Cats that scent a female cat in heat will also perform the flehmen reaction.

You will notice the flehmen reaction when your cat curls their lips and open their mouth. Cats will open their mouth to completely employ this organ to its full ability.

Not All Cats Respond

Genetics play a large factor in if a cat will respond to catnip or not. Only about 45 to 50% of all cats will be responsive to catnip at all. It is also important to mention that catnip will not work on any cats that are younger than 4 months of age.

The common age that catnip starts to work is about six months old. The reason this this herb does not work on young cats is because their Jacobson’s organ is not fully developed.

It is also important to take into account that catnip varies in quality like every other herb. Some brands of may be very weak while other brands will literally make the whole room smell like the catnip. Take time to research the brand qualities before making a purchase so you can make sure you are getting the right stuff.

Kong brand catnip is the best brand to use if you are wanting to buy the highest quality that you can find. Kong catnip is available through Amazon. You can click on the link or picture to purchase this product.

If your cat does not respond, you may try to use valerian, another herb that produces a similar hallucinogenic effect.

Can Catnip be Harmful?

It is not possible to overdose catnip for your cat enough to cause any harmful effects. However, veterinarians often say that too frequent of use or exposure can lead to more catnip being required to provide a hallucinogenic effect.

Giving Catnip

This herb can be given in a few ways:

  • You can purchase toys that already have it infused in them.
  • You can sprinkle it on the floor and allow them to roll on the floor.
  • You can grow this herb in a pot and leave it out for your cat to eat it.
  • You can buy catnip grass which can be entertaining for your cat.
  • Spread it on a cat scratching post to help them learn to scratch

Medicinal Usages

This herb may be used as medicine for humans. It is estimated that catnip has been used for centuries for medicinal reasons because of the sedative effect it often has on humans.

Catnip can be used to treat ailments such as arthritis, insomnia, headaches, stomach upset, fever, and as a supplement to help cure upper respiratory infections.

Catnip can be directly applied to the skin for skin conditions or arthritis. Catnip is most often made into a tea in order to take full advantage of it. The tea is especially useful for stomach upset or indigestion after a large meal. The final way you can use this herb is by smoking it.

Learn more about how to use catnip for human medicine at this link.

Mosquito Repellent

Catnip has been found to be at five to ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than traditional products. It has also been proven that it can even repel cockroaches and termites to a certain degree. You can make this into a mosquito repellent easily by following this link.

Catnip is a beneficial repellent because mosquitoes can transmit the dreaded heartworm disease and West Nile virus. Along with heartworm preventative, this can add an extra layer of protection.

How to Grow

Growing this herb is relatively easy and inexpensive to do. The only thing you need is pots, lights, and an oscillating fan. Catnip can be grown inside or outside. This herb will grow about four feet high and require spacing of at least 18 to 20 inches apart to grow effectively. You can learn about growing your own here.


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