a cat sitting on the ground with its tongue out, catnip

What Does Catnip Truly Do To Cats? [2024]

Every cat lover has likely heard of catnip and its intriguing effects on cats. It makes cats act playful, goofy, or even a bit wild. But what exactly is catnip, and how does it work? 

Can catnip be used strategically to attract cats to new toys or cozy cat beds? It’s fascinating how it captivates many cats, but not all of them react in the same way. Let’s explore the science behind this herb and its impact on our pets.

What is Catnip?

catnip, water drops, nepeta cataria
Catnip is an herb from the mint family.

Catnip is a mint family herb known scientifically as Nepeta cataria. It contains a compound called nepetalactone, which produces a response in many cats.

When cats smell or consume it can lead to various reactions, including:

  • Excitement
  • Playfulness
  • Rolling
  • Rubbing
  • Purring
  • Hyperactivity.

It is safe for cats and isn’t addictive or harmful. It’s often used in toys, scratching posts, or as a way to encourage activity and playfulness in cats. These plants can be grown in gardens or obtained in various forms like dried leaves or sprays, readily available in pet stores.

What does Catnip do to Cats?

Catnip affects the cat’s brain due to the production of a substance that intoxicates the cat, making him go crazy. When a cat experiences this herb, it triggers a sensory response.

Cats normally react by:

  • Sniffing
  • Licking
  • Biting the herb. 

Research indicates that the method of exposure influences the cat’s response. Inhaling catnip makes cats more active and playful, exhibiting behaviors like rolling, flipping, or rubbing against the source.

Contrarily, when ingested, the herb tends to have a more sedative effect, causing cats to become very mellow and relaxed.

The scent of it stimulates receptors in a cat’s nasal tissue, sending signals to the brain. This interaction induces various responses, from increased playfulness and excitement to relaxation.

Can Kittens Have Catnip?

Yes, kittens can have catnip, but not all of them will respond to it.

Veterinarians generally recommend giving it in moderation. While it is not harmful to cats, it’s best to use it occasionally to prevent your cat’s desensitization to its effects.

During one of your regular visits to the vet, ask questions about introducing it or any other new elements into your kitten’s environment or diet.

Can Catnip be Used for Training Cats?

Catnip’s effects make it an exciting consideration for training cats, but its use for training purposes might not be as straightforward as you would think.

While it can serve as a motivator or a tool for positive reinforcement in some cases, its effectiveness for training varies among cat breeds.

Primarily, the herb is more of a behavioral enhancer than a training aid.

It’s unlikely to teach a specific command or behavior on its own. However, it can be strategically used to encourage certain behaviors or as a reward with positive reinforcement training.

  • Enhancement rather than Direct Training: the effects of this herb can serve as a motivator or enhancer in training but may not directly teach specific behaviors.
  • Behavioral Encouragement: It can be strategically used to encourage certain behaviors. For instance, sprinkling catnip on a new scratching post might entice a cat to explore and use it.
  • Variable Responses: Cats react differently to it. Some become playful and excitable, while others become relaxed. Understanding your cat’s reaction is key for training purposes.
  • Moderation and Consistency: Using it sparingly helps maintain its effectiveness. Ensure that catnip-infused rewards or items are associated with positive experiences to reinforce desired behavior.
  • Complement to Positive Reinforcement: It can complement positive reinforcement techniques by enhancing motivation, but it’s not a standalone training tool.

While this herb can pique a cat’s interest and motivation, its primary role in training is as an enhancer or motivator alongside consistent positive reinforcement techniques. Understanding your cat’s response and using catnip judiciously can aid in shaping desired behaviors.

Final Thoughts

brown tabby cat
Here is a happy cat to make your day better.

This magical herb intrigues many, but not all, cat breeds. Understanding its effects and how cats respond to it can help enrich our pets’ experiences. It’s a tool for entertainment, but as with any substance, moderation is key.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can Cats Overdose on Catnip?

No, cats can’t overdose on catnip. However, excessive exposure might lead to temporary disinterest as the cat becomes accustomed to its effects. It’s recommended to use it in small quantities to retain its effectiveness.

Are There Other Plants That Affect Cats Similarly to Catnip?

Yes, some other plants, such as silver vine and valerian root, might affect cats similarly. Responses to these plants can vary among cats.

Can Cats Build a Tolerance to Catnip?

Cats might temporarily tolerate it with repeated exposure, but it usually fades after a short period of abstinence, restoring their sensitivity to it.





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