What Is Catnip and Will It Hurt My Cat?

catnip toys

If you’ve ever witnessed a cat experience catnip, you probably have a lot of questions. In fact, whether you’re a new cat parent or have had your feline friend for years, you may be wondering why catnip has such mysterious qualities and how best to use catnip with your cat.

If you want to know more about this magical plant, this post explains exactly what catnip does to a cat and breaks down whether it’s harmful or not to use, but we don’t just give you the science. We help you understand how this plant works so that you can incorporate catnip toys into your daily routine with your cat.

catnip toys

Top 5 Questions About Catnip

People who have seen catnip in action and even those who have just read or heard about it have a lot of questions about this plant, and these next sections hit the top questions cat lovers have on the subject.

1. What Is Catnip?

Catnip is a member of the mint family. A native plant to Eurasia, this perennial can grow vigorously in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9. Although associated with cats, many people grow and use catnip to make herbal teas and to aid digestive issues. Because it’s resistant to both drought and deer, people enjoy using catnip in their gardens to deter pesky mosquitoes while attracting other wildlife, such as butterflies.

2. What Does Catnip Do to Cats?

For our feline friends, science explains what seems like magic when your cat gets around some catnip. Some think cats just need to smell catnip, but it’s not quite that simple. Catnip’s active ingredient is an essential oil that enters the nose or mouth of your cat after your cat comes into contact with it.

It just takes a little romping with the plant for your cat to get the contact needed, and then the oil makes its way to your cat’s olfactory bulb where it stimulates the brain. From there, an area in your cat’s midbrain triggers your cat to respond emotionally to the substance.

However, not all cats respond to catnip. Most do, but about a quarter of cats don’t receive the stimulation from catnip that causes other cats to react and present noticeable changes in behavior. If your cat is young though, don’t give up. The reaction is hormonal, which means your cat needs to reach sexual maturity first—around six months of age—before you might see a reaction to catnip.

3. How Will My Cat Respond to Catnip?

Your cat’s response will be unique to your cat because not all cats have the same reaction to catnip. So keep an eye on your cat when first introducing catnip and note what behavioral changes you see. Cats can respond in a whole spectrum of ways, which depends on how much oil your cat ingests as well as the personality of your cat.

From getting more excited than usual to simply becoming calmer as if chilling out, you should take note of what your cat does after rolling around in or playing with catnip toys. You’ll likely first notice your cat licking and rubbing the product, and if you’re growing it outside, your cat will probably roll in it. After that, you may witness a variety of behaviors.

For example, you may see that your cat can’t seem to get enough of the catnip because your cat is licking, sniffing, and chewing it. Cats may also respond by shaking their heads and rubbing their cheeks, and some may get really excited and show it by vocalizing and running around. On the other hand, you may see your cat just completely relax and become really calm.

Regardless of the reactions you witness, take notes quickly because the effects don’t last terribly long. For most cats, the stimulation from catnip last about 10 to 15 minutes.

catnip toys

4. Can Catnip Harm My Cat?

Veterinarians don’t have specific doses to recommend for catnip, and they do consider the herb safe and non-addictive. Just as cats regulate their food intake independently, most tend to stop interacting with catnip when they’ve had their fill. For those rare cats that get a bit too much catnip, they experience a bit of mild stomach upset.

5. How Often Should I Give My Cat Catnip?

Because cats tend to self-regulate their use of the herb, you can leave out catnip toys for your feline friends all day long. Cats may initially engage with the toys, licking them and rubbing their faces on them, but once they’ve had their fill, they’ll lose interest in the toys for a few hours and then come back to them later.

Incorporating Catnip into Your Cat’s Day

If you notice a positive reaction from your cat after interacting with catnip, then you can use that magical herb to enhance your cat’s day as well as use it to encourage certain behaviors from your cat. For example, you can use it for

  • Separation anxiety: If you have to leave the house for extended periods of time that cause anxiety for your cat, catnip can go a long way to give your cat some relief.
  • Exercise: Catnip toys can stimulate your cat and encourage play throughout the day.
  • Relieving stress on trips: Whether heading to the vet or across the country on vacation, your cat may not enjoy the pet carrier or the ride. So sprinkling some catnip in the carrier can offer some relief just like you would for separation anxiety.
  • Encouraging positive behaviors: If you want your cat to use that new bed or use the scratching posts instead of your couch, just like the pet carrier, sprinkle catnip on those places where you need the behavior to take place as a tempting encouragement to use whatever you’re offering.

Catnip and catnip toys are not only safe for your furry friends but also can be great tools to enhance your cat’s day. You can choose from a wide selection of pet-parent-approved toys from Leo’s Paw and add some magic to your cat’s life.


  • Wanda Mayo

    Is there a certain kind that is best. Where should it be stored? This was very interesting thank you

  • jane kuntz

    A catnip plant or two is very beneficial to cats. Not only does it give pleasure but it helps prevent and heal diabetes when they eat a few leaves regularly. I am an herbalist myself, but I learned this from famed herbalist Juliette de Baraklai Levy. My cats testify by their health and vitality that catnip is a precious medicine.

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