What Is Catnip?

“Catnip” or officially Nepeta cataria is a herbaceous perennial herb of the mint family. Its white flowers may be pleasing to the eye, however beware: if you plant catnip in your garden, you will soon understand how it earned the name “catnip” – many of our feline friends go absolutely bonkers for it.


Why Do Cats Love It?

For your kitty, it’s all about the euphoric effects of nepetalactone, which is found in the leaves and stems of the plant. Cats may attempt to nibble or crush the catnip in an effort to extract the plant’s nepetalactone containing essential oil.

Common kitty reactions to nepetalactone include rubbing the face and body, loud purring, chewing and licking, all with the blissed out appearance that is tell-tale of a happy cat. Most cats will interact with the catnip for under ten minutes, and then seem to enter a bliss-like state which may last for about an hour. Some kitties will become very possessive of the catnip, and react with aggression if interrupted.

Does catnip work on humans?

Have you ever noticed that you don’t roll around on the ground and rub your cheeks into the carpet when catnip is present? That’s because nepetalactone doesn’t effect humans in the same way it does cats. However, emerging research indicated that nepetalactone shows promise as a bug repellent, with studies indicating that it could be tens time more effective than DEET.

Catnip Uses:

Make Toys More Enticing

Has your cats favorite toy lost some of its luster? Bring it back to life with a sprinkle or spray of catnip. This is also a way to introduce new toys to your kitty, making them quick favorites.


Bliss Out

For felines that react to nepetalactone it doesn’t take much to have a good time. Simply sprinkle a little of the dried herb near your cat, or spray a spritz or two of catnip spray onto a papertowel or other object, and stand back and watch as your kitty happily entertains himself.


Oh this post is for ME?

Sometimes a scratching post or cat tree is not immediately embraced by our furry friends. While we would quite like them to attempt to scratch their own, personal scratching post to shreds (instead of the new lazy-boy recliner), it can oftentimes take a little convincing. A sprinkle or spray of catnip on the feline furniture will in many cases do the trick.

Does Catnip Work On All Cats?

The ability to enjoy nepetalactone is a genetic trait that is thought to be present in an estimated 50-75% of cats. Among those who share this trait, the reaction to nepetalcatone varies from mild to much stronger reactions.

Don’t be discouraged if your kitty is delighted with catnip just yet; cats under eight weeks do not have fully developed senses, and are not yet able to react to nepetalcatone. Give it a try once they are a couple of months older.

Catnip Alternatives

Cats who do not react to catnip, may react to one of these natural alternatives. Also, cats who do react to nepetalactone may enjoy these herbs as well:


You may be familiar with valerian as it is found in health stores world-wide, promoted as a calming agent in humans, and also in dogs. However, for many cats valerian root has the reverse effect and acts as a stimulant. The feline-activating constituent of Valerian root is actinidine, which for some cats is a stronger draw that the more famous nnepetalactone from the catnip plant.

The downside to valerian is chiefly that some humans find the scent to be, well… not quite as nice as your cat hopefully will, to put it mildly.


Honeysuckle is often effective for the segment of felines who do not respond to catnip. It’s important to note that while the honeysuckle sawdust shavings are for kitty, the plant’s berries are toxic to cats. Also of note, not all varieties of honey suckle have cat-attractant properties, only Lonicera tatarica (tartarian honeysuckle sawdust) specifically has the ability to charm our feline friends.


Long popular in Asia, silver vine (also called matatabi) has recently started to make its way into Western markets. Like Valerian, silvervine contains the cat attractant actinidine, but unlike Valerian root it also contains a second cat attractant: dihydroactinidiolide. This one-two punch may be why Silvervine has a reputation for being the most potent feline stimulant for many kitties.