Updated: August 4, 2022 by Kristen Chapple
You might have heard plenty of stories about cats and catnip and how cats get high after nibbling a little bit at the plant. But are those stories really true? Do cats get high on catnip? Read on to find out how do cats react to catnip.
The Latin scientific name of catnip is Nepeta cataria, but it can also be called catmint or catswort in some parts of the world. Native to Europe, Africa and Asia and brought to North America by settlers, catnip is a weed type of plant, similar to mint in many aspects and which contains a lot of acids, tannins, sterols and volatile oils. It’s very popular in gardens nowadays and seems to have some interesting effects on cats, while at the same time being non-addictive and without side effects.
How Do Cats React to Catnip
Many people say that catnip is the cat version of marijuana, but let’s find out what science says about the matter and why cats love it so much.
The fact is that some cats don’t even care about it, as around 30 percent of all cats don’t respond at all to catnip. In addition to that, very young cats and the old ones don’t respond to it as well, as cats need to be sexually mature to feel any effects from catnip.
Those cats who feel the effects can react with a wide range of behaviors, including vocalizing, rolling on the floor, rubbing against the plant, chewing or licking it, head shaking and jumping around.
These behaviors usually last for 10 to 15 minutes, after which cats become immune for 30 minutes to an hour to the effects of the plant.
How Does Catnip Work
The main ingredient of catnip is a substance called nepetalactone, a volatile oil and an active ingredient which when inhaled through a cat’s nose, gets into the nasal tissue and adheres to receptors that further stimulate sensory neurons in the olfactory system of the cat.
The signal then goes to the brain where the amygdala and the hypotalamus, which are two of the brain’s ways to control emotional and hormonal responses. The amygdala then further transforms the information in behavioral responses and the hypotalamus creates a sexual response.
The effect of catnip is like a pheromone that causes the behaviors described above.
There are no known negative effects with catnip. The plant isn’t toxic even if cats ingest it, so don’t worry if you see your furry little friend eating a little bit every now and then.
Also, catnip isn’t addictive and doesn’t provoke any side effects, so let your cat enjoy some when she feels like it.