Catnip — What It Is and Why You Should Try It On Your Cat

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: November 13, 2016

Updated: June 29, 2022

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cat enjoying catnipWhat is catnip?

Though many cat owners are aware of catnip (sometimes called catmint), they don’t actually know what it is.

So I thought I’d take a second to “pull back the curtain” and also share a couple of great uses for catnip with you.

Catnip is actually a herb! It’s in the mint family and, if you’re interested, its scientific name is Nepeta cataria. Though it is native to parts of Asia and Europe, you can actually grow catnip yourself in indoor pots or in your garden. And though you could technically do so, I don’t actually recommend growing catnip in your window boxes. Its attractiveness to your cats could increase your cat's risk of suffering a high-rise fall!

what a catnip plant looks likeWhile many cats like and do well with their “catnip high,” (see the video below for a "chemistry lesson") playing and becoming calm and content, you should know that there are some cats that actually become hyper and potentially a little aggressive under the influence of catnip.

And there are also some cats that aren't affected by catnip at all (estimates put it at about 30-35% of cats that aren't affected). So, if you haven’t used it with your cat(s) yet but plan to, it might be best to do a little test and see how they respond first. Typically the effects of catnip last only about 10 minutes to an hour.

 


Uses for catnip

The typical use for catnip is to encourage cats to play, and for this it can be great to incorporate into your environmental enrichment for your cats. However, encouraging play isn’t the only use for catnip.

Given that it can have a calming, soothing effect, catnip can also be great as part of a plan to help reduce a cat’s stress and anxiety when going to the vet, when they need to travel, or even when they’re having urinary issues (note that stress is a major contributing factor to urinary obstruction in cats!).

cat enjoying catnip off of floor

Catnip toys and sprays

Catnip can help cats relax and engage in play, both of which can help reduce stress. You can get catnip in its dry form for sprinkling on scratching pads or your cat's bed.

Cat crack dry catnipIt's also available as a catnip oil spray, which can be great for spraying your cat's toys or in their carrier. And, of course, there are refillable catnip toys for your cat to bat around and play with.

While many cats like and do well with their “catnip high,” playing and becoming calm and content, you should know that there are some cats that actually become hyper and potentially a little aggressive under the influence of catnip.

And there are also some cats that aren't affected by catnip at all (estimates put it at about 30–35% of cats that aren't affected). So, if you haven’t used it with your cat(s) yet but plan to, it might be best to do a little test and see how they respond first.

Catnip does not lose its potency over time but typically the effects of catnip last only about 10 minutes to an hour.

cute gifts and comfy clothes for animal lovers

And catnip doesn’t just help your cats! Since it has mosquito-repellent properties, planting catnip in your garden and yard can help to keep the area around your home mosquito-free! Which could greatly benefit you—both from a nuisance standpoint, as well as disease-prevention standpoint (West Nile, Zika, etc.). And since mosquitoes are how heartworm disease is spread to both cats and dogs, you’ve got even more incentive to keep these flying pests out of and away from your home.

Want to test out your green thumb? Here's a great video that offers great tips for growing catnip at home either from seed or from cuttings:

 

And there you go, a quick little overview of catnip and how it can help your cats.

Have you used catnip with your cats? How do they do with it? Have you ever tried growing your own catnip? We’d love to hear about your experiences.

About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.

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