Giving catnip to your cat is almost guaranteed to provoke a reaction. And it’s usually a pretty hilarious reaction at that! But what is it about catnip that cats love so much? Our customers have been discussing this recently on social media so we thought that we would explain the science behind catnip – and hopefully dispel a few myths on the way too.

cat smelling catnip

What is catnip?

Catnip is a herb in the nepeta genus of plants, which is commonly known as 'catmints'. The reason they have become known as catmints is because of the effect they have on housecats. It’s thought that the reason behind this is that the smell mimics the effect of cat pheromones, which are involved in the mating process.

Is it the same as the mint we eat?

No – but it is in the same family. Common mint is called ‘Mentha’ (hence ‘menthol’!). Like catmint, they both belong to the Lamiaceae family. Although normal mint doesn’t have the same effect on cats.

Why does it send cats crazy?

There is a chemical called 'Nepetalactone' which is extremely attractive to cats. The chemical binds to the olfactory receptors of cats, and causes a positive reaction. 

Put simply?

There are little receptors inside a cat’s nose which react to the chemicals in catnip and make cats happy.

Is catnip safe to give my cat?

Absolutely. Sometimes catnip is likened to a drug, or to alcohol, but this is inaccurate. While it’s true that catnip makes cats excited, this is simply because the smell is stimulating. There are no adverse effects from smelling catnip. If your cat was to eat a large amount of catnip then it may cause some tummy upset. But that’s quite unlikely!

Why doesn’t my cat react to catnip?

It’s due to genetics – around 30% of cats don’t have the ‘catnip sensors’ in their noses and therefore don’t react to catnip. This is a trait inherited from one or both of the cat's parents. Kittens under 6 months old are often not fussed by catnip - and you may find that as your cat ages their interest in catnip fades too. This is likely due to their sense of smell dulling with age.

How often should I give catnip to my cat?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but we advise a maximum of a couple of times per week. Catnip should be seen as a treat rather than a daily essential. If you’re unsure about how often your cat can have dried catnip, you could consider growing it in your garden instead. Cats will sniff and roll in the catnip when they feel like being stimulated, but they will self-dose so you won’t need to worry about them having too much.

 

 Disclaimer: This content in this article is intended for information or entertainment purposes only, it is not intended to replace the advice of a vet or animal health professional. Your use of the information is entirely at your own risk and Me & My Pets assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of the information found on this site. If you have any questions or concerns over your pet's wellbeing you should consult your vet immediately.