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Catnip Effects

Updated on June 5, 2013

If you have a cat, more likely than not you have given it catnip. One of the most fun things to do is give your kitty a bit of crushed catnip leaves or a toy mouse stuffed with catnip and see them go a bit nutty with it. Most cats do enjoy catnip and will eagerly come back for more in a day or two. The effect is sort of like seeing your cat drunk or high. But how exactly does catnip work on your cat? And does it have any effect on humans? Read on to discover how and why catnip works.

Catnip effects your cat in several ways, including wearing them out and making them sleepy.
Catnip effects your cat in several ways, including wearing them out and making them sleepy.

How Does Catnip Work?

A very small amount of catnip can have large effects on the behavior of your cat. As small a portion of 1 part per billion of the active compound in catnip will trigger these behavioral effects. This means that even catnip that has been around a while will still be potent enough to have some effect on your kitty. However, the freshest catnip will be best, and your cat will enjoy its effects the most. The ultraviolet light from the sun can degrade catnip’s potency, so always store the herb in a lightproof container.

The active compound that creates catnip’s effect is a compound known as nepetalactone. This chemical has its effect when the cat breaths in it fumes. Thus, many veterinarians and other cat experts believe that cats play with the catnip and chew the leaves to release the scent, which they then breath in. Crushing or bruising the catnip leaves before you give them to your cat will enhance its psychoactive properties.

Although the exact mechanism by which nepetalactone has it effect on cats is not known, many people believe it has the effect of stimulating your cat’s sexual desires. The way cats roll around on the ground after sniffing catnip is very similar to the behavior of female cats in heat. However, catnip affects both male and female cats equally. Kittens that haven’t reached sexual material have very little interest in catnip and will mostly ignore it if you give it to them. Some kittens may start to have an interest in catnip at 2 months of age and on up to 6 months.

However, only about 50 to 70 percent of cats will be affected by catnip at all. This is because the susceptibility to catnip is inherited, and if your cat did not get the catnip genes from its parents, the herb will have no effect on it. For example, cats that originate in Australia get no effects from catnip at all. It is believed these animals were never exposed to the herb in their natural environment and so never adapted a response to it.

Changes in You Cat’s Behavior

For those cats that are susceptible to the effects of catnip, their behavior can change quite dramatically, although the effects can be completely different from cat to cat. Your cat might start meowing and drooling. It may start rolling around on the floor and taking up funny positions with its paws sticking straight up or waving around. Some older cats may become very playful and start acting like they did as kittens. They may have more interest in chasing pieces of string or running after toys you throw for them. Although some cats become extremely active when given catnip, others will become very lethargic and sleepy. Many cats take a nap as the effects of the catnip begin to wear off.

Catnip is not addictive, and the chemical that has its effect is nontoxic and will not harm your cat. However, some cats do become aggressive while under the influence. They may pick fights with other cats and become very territorial. Or they may become aggressive with their owners and scratch and bite. You may want to avoid giving catnip to these cats or perhaps allow them to be alone and away from people and other pets while they are under the influence.

Also, some cats with sensitive stomachs may react poorly to eating catnip. This effect can be avoided by stuffing the catnip into a cloth mouse or other toy so that your cat can smell the nepetalactone but not eat the leaves.

Catnip Effects in Humans

Although the effects of catnip in humans are much less than in cats, it is known for having some effects. Catnip is drunk as a tea in many parts of the world, and this is thought to have a mild sedative effect in people, allowing them to relax. It is also used to calm upset stomachs and alleviate headaches. Fresh catnip leaves can be crushed and applied to small cuts as an aid to healing.

So, as you can see, catnip has many excellent effects on both cats and their human owners. Catnip is widely available in pet stores and food markets and can easily be grown at home. Treat yourself, and your cat, to some catnip today.


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    • Sehnonimo profile image

      Sehnonimo 7 years ago from San Bruno, CA

      Seeing as she has breathing problems, I would think giving a cat catnip would not be advisable. With dried catnip, you have small particles that can be inhaled by your cat. Even with fresh catnip, if you cat gets really excited with catnip, he may go into respiratory distress. Her heart will beat faster than she can get oxygen to them, and it will be hard to breath. (I have asthma, I should know what that's like!) Better to be safe with that. =) Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      Chris Peerson 7 years ago

      I worrie about giving it to my 20 year old cat who is mostly blind and def. She also had breathing issues.

      What do you all think?

    • Sehnonimo profile image

      Sehnonimo 7 years ago from San Bruno, CA

      Thank you! I give some to my cats and they love it! They end up playing with each other and tiring each other out ; )

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 7 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      I may need to give some of this to mine! Good hub!