Is Catnip Really “Like Candy” For Cats? How To Use Catnip as a Treat To Reward Your Cat

Catnip can be a great way to stimulate and bring out your cat’s playful nature. Just a small pinch of the plant is enough to reward your furry friend. Most cats love catnip, but about 20% lack the gene that makes catnip effective and others may respond negatively. Catnip is affordable and easily available, so most cat owners give it a try at least once.


What Is Catnip?

Catnip (Nepeta Cataria) is also known as catswort or catmint. Catnip is a plant of the Genus Nepeta in the species Lamiaceae. It has light green, feathery foliage with lavender flowers. It can be used as a natural bug repellant and is also known to make herbal tea. Some also have used the flowers of catnip as a homeopathic remedy for the common cough. Its most well-known usage is for its intoxicating effect on cats.

How Does It Work on Cats?

The effect of catnip on cats is similar to alcohol or marijuana on humans. It works to alter a cat’s behavior due to the chemical nepetalactone and its effect on endorphins. This acts as an attractant to cats and triggers a response in the feline brain. When a cat smells the catnip, it enters the cat's nose and binds to sensory neurons that line the animal's nasal cavity. This stimulates areas of the brain responsible for emotion and behavior. Although the effects aren’t long (10-15 minutes), the dose and how much your cat inhales or eats it will increase the effects. Cats will react to catnip in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Drooling
  • Sniffing, rolling or rubbing themselves on it
  • Stretching or relaxing
  • Jumping, running or playing
  • Purring or showing affection

A small percentage of cats react aggressively to catnip and may begin hissing or biting. Some cats are more sensitive to catnip than others and it may not be suitable for all cats.

Where You Can Find Catnip

Catnip is found growing naturally in Southern and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, China, and parts of the Middle East. It’s also been naturalized to grow in North America, New Zealand, and Northern Europe. While you can grow catnip on your own depending on your location, most people find it more convenient to purchase catnip ready-made or in toys because of the small amount needed. You can purchase catnip at many different vendors and locations on the web or in most pet stores.

Is Catnip Safe?

Vets widely regard catnip as harmless for cats in small amounts. While fatal overdosing on catnip is almost unheard of, your cat can certainly experience negative symptoms if given too much catnip. When first giving your cat catnip, you should monitor their reaction to see how they respond. If your cat begins to act hyperactive, you should remove any obstacles or objects your cat could accidentally break or damage, and block off access to areas of your house that may be a danger to your cat while its behavior is erratic.

As long as your cat isn’t in an area where any problematic accidents could happen, the catnip itself is usually safe in moderation. If your cat does have a negative reaction to catnip, the effects should typically wear off within 24 hours without the need for treatment or hospitalization. If you feel your cat is having an adverse reaction to catnip, stop use and consult an online vet.

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Luna Tran

My name is Luna and I am a great cat lover and a cat owner of three lovely cats. I have owned many cats till now and have dedicated many years to nurturing and caring cats. Through this blog, I am here to share my knowledge and experience about cats.