Fascinating Facts About Catnip Your Feline’s Favorite Plant

Does your cat go crazy over catnip? If so, you may be wondering why your feline fancies this green stuff so much. Catnip is technically an herb that belongs to the mint family, Nepeta cataria, which grows as aperennial (each year). It has also been referred to as catmint and catswort.

If you think this is interesting, read on for more fascinating facts about catnip, your feline’s favorite plant.

Fact #1 - Catnip Leaves, Stems & Blooms, Oh My!

Catnip is native to Africa, Asia, and Europe. It was imported to the US and now can be found growing in North America. The plant grows up to three feet tall and has heart-shaped leaves. In the flowering season, catnip sprouts small blooms in pink, white, blue or lavender.

Fact #2 - It’s All About the “Nepetalactone”

So what exactly is it that makes cats react to catnip? It’s all about a chemical called “nepetalactone.” When inhaled or ingested, the nepetalactone triggers a response in your feline’s brain, which can result in one of two responses (sniffing catnip stimulates your cat, while ingesting makes him relaxed).


Cats under the influence of catnip can have reactions such as;

  • Rolling around on the catnip (or object with catnip in it)
  • Kicking or pawing at the object
  • Rubbing
  • Drooling
  • Meowing
  • Purring

However, not all cats get a euphoric sense from catnip, some can be aggressive. Even large jungle cats can be affected by catnip.

Fact #3 - Not All Cats Are Affected

Oddly enough, not all felines are affected by nepetalactone. Studies show that from 50 to 70 percent of cats will show some sort of reaction to catnip and that the “sensitivity” to the chemical is largely inherited. However, cats in Australia don’t seem to get the catnip-crazies, nor do kittens under the age of two or three months or senior cats. Male cats also tend to be more reactive, because catnip has a similar odor as the female feline’s urine.

Fact #4 - It’s Not Addictive

If you’re worried that your feline friend may become addicted to catnip, rest assured he cannot. Despite your cat's seemingly strange behavior when he comes in contact with catnip, the effects of nepetalactone is short-lasting (about 10 minutes). And because catnip is safe and effective, it is helpful when trying to entice Kitty to use a new bed, or a scratch post or to get her to exercise more.

Fact #5 - Different Forms for Finicky Felines

One of the great things about catnip is the many different forms it can be purchased in. Your feline can enjoy this herb in edible treats, sprays, loose leaves (flowers, buds), pellets, dried, dental chews, and all kinds of cat toys.


Fact #6 - Humans Can Also Use It!

Think catnip is only for pets? Think again. There are several uses for humans. Steep the leaves and drink as a tea. The nepetalactone acts like a mild sedative and may help relieve insomnia. It has also been proven effective in relieving tooth pain, nausea, and headaches. Just don’t ingest if you are pregnant, as it could cause a miscarriage.

If you want to use catnip for its “healing” properties, check your health food store for catnip capsules.

Fresh catnip leaves can also be crushed and moistened into a paste to help aid and speed the healing process of minor cuts and abrasions.

Fact #7 - Bye, Bye Bugs!

Scientists discovered that catnip is great at repelling bugs such as mosquitoes, cockroaches, flies, and termites. In fact, it’s 10 times better than DEET. However, the chemical loses its effectiveness when applied directly to the skin - but your cat would sure love you!

Fact #8 - You Can Grow It, Too!

Want to have your own supply of catnip? It’s not difficult to grow. All you need is full sunlight, porous soil, and lots of room for it to flourish. Pick up seeds or seedlings and plant them in the ground after the last freeze of the season. Once it has reached maturity, clip it, bind it, and hang upside down to dry in a dark, well-ventilated area. When it’s ready to use, store it in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for optimal freshness.


Catnip & Your Feline Friend

Does your cat like catnip? If you don’t know, then why not give it a try? It comes in a variety of different forms to suit even the finickiest of pets. You can even grow it yourself.

Even though not all cats react to the chemical nepetalactone, the ones that do can range from mellow to racing around the room at top speed. Either way, the effect won’t last long. So, give Kitty some catnip and see what happens.

Further reading:

  1. WebMD. Catnip
  2. BBC. Catnip fix
  3. Chemistry World. Nepetalactone


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