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Why Do Cats Love Catnip? 10 Reasons Behind the Behavior

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	Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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You may not want to admit the truth to yourself, but deep down inside, it can’t be denied. The signs are all there, after all: lack of coordination, drooling, zoning out, and staring into space.

There’s no doubt about it — your cat has been doing catnip.

If you want to understand this thrill-seeking behavior, the list below will explain why, exactly, cats love catnip.

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What is Catnip, Anyway?

Catnip is an herb from the mint family. It grows naturally in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and it’s long been renowned for its effect on cats.

Many people grow catnip in their gardens, as it’s a hardy plant. It does well in low-water situations, and most deer and other pests won’t touch it. It even deters mosquitoes and attracts butterflies (and cats, of course).

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The 10 Reasons That Cats Love Catnip

1. It Has Nepetalactone

The oil in the leaves of the plant contains a compound called “nepetalactone,” which enters your cat’s brain through the nose or mouth. After binding to protein receptors, it stimulates neurons and sends signals to the brain. These signals trigger your cat’s amygdala and hypothalamus. These areas are responsible for emotional and behavioral responses, so nepetalactone has an effect similar to pheromones on a cat.


Image Credit: R. E. Beck, Pixabay

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2. It Creates a Sexual Response

Nepetalactone stimulates pheromone receptors, which are also responsible for sexual response. As a result, huffing catnip will have a strong sexual component for many cats. This is why many female cats act like they’re in heat when they come in contact with catnip.

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3. It’s a Powerful Hallucinogenic

Many hallucinogenic drugs create intense, euphoric feelings of happiness, and catnip doesn’t seem to be any different. Your cat will be seriously over the moon for as long as the effects last — but they may start tripping too. It’s fun to watch, but be careful, as they can hurt themselves if they run around the house without their wits about them.

Gray Cat Enjoying Fresh Catnip_Anna Hoychuk_shutterstock
Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock
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4. It’s Hereditary

Not every cat loses their mind over catnip — our best guess is that only around half to three-quarters of them do. It seems like catnip’s effects are hereditary, so a cat will either have inherited the “catnip gene” or they won’t have. Either way, you can’t blame them for loving it — it’s literally coded in their DNA.

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5. It Doesn’t Last Long

Catnip’s effects only last for a few minutes, so they don’t have long to enjoy it. Just think about it: If you experienced absolute bliss for a few minutes after eating catnip and then it went away, wouldn’t you want to keep eating it? Your cat feels the same way.

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Image Credit: Pixabay
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6. It Will Work Again After About 2 Hours, Though

While catnip’s effects won’t last long, the plant can be revisited every 2 hours or so. At that time, your cat will experience the same hallucinogenic euphoria they did the first time around — and they can keep going back every few hours. Many do just that!

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7. It’s Almost Completely Safe

Your cat can’t overdose on catnip, but if they eat too much, they may get an upset stomach.

cat sniffing catnip
Image Credit: CatCrazy, Pixabay
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8. It Can Get Older Cats Moving

If you have a senior cat who spends all day lounging on the couch, giving them a little whiff of catnip can get them up and moving about. Catnip often has a stimulating effect on cats, so your older pet can get up and race around the house again, just like they did when they were a kitten.

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9. It’s a Great Way to Teach Positive Behaviors

Many owners get the spray bottle out whenever they catch their cat clawing at the furniture or going to the bathroom outside the box. Instead of punishing them for bad behavior, you can encourage them to use a scratching post by sprinkling catnip over it. Offering the opportunity to play with a catnip sprinkled toy after using the litter box will encourage the cat to continue using it.  We guarantee your cat will enjoy this training method more than the spray bottle.

cat sniffing dried catnip
Image Credit: Lightspruch, Shutterstock
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10. It Can Help Reduce Anxiety

If you have to do something that you know will stress your cat out, like take them to the vet or put them in the car, then giving them a little catnip beforehand can take the edge off all that anxiety. It won’t last for long, and it’s not a long-term solution for anxiety problems, but it can be a lifesaver in a pinch.

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Why Does Your Cat Love Catnip?

Feel free to give your kitty some catnip as an occasional treat, but don’t overdo it, as they can develop a tolerance to it over time.

Additional Catnip Reads:

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Featured Image: Olga_Malinina, Shutterstock