New Haven cat licking cat nip.

Most cat parents have heard of catnip, and some are very familiar with giving it to their cats. This mystifying substance can make your cat seem “high,” or to behave in strange or funny ways. But what exactly is it, and how does it affect your feline friends? The team at New Haven Pet Hospital is here to help uncover the mystery of catnip and how it affects your cat. 

What is Catnip? 

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a perennial herb that is a part of the mint family. The compound found in the leaves and stems of the plant that attracts cats is nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is an essential oil found in the plant, and enters the nose or mouth of your cat when they are playing with the substance. 

This compound stimulates the olfactory bulb of your cat’s brain, which sends information to other areas of the brain. The amygdala, or a mid region of the brain, is stimulated and causes an emotional response in your cat. The pituitary gland is also stimulated, which is responsible for hormonal regulation. The combined stimulation of the amygdala and pituitary gland creates a neurological response that can make your cat seem “high” from the resulting changes in behavior.  

How Does Catnip Affect Your Cat? 

Different cats will have different reactions to catnip, since the response capabilities are actually genetic. While some may become mellow and chill, others may rocket around the room and become very vocal. About 25% of cats will have no response to nepetalactone at all! 

Depending on the amount of catnip your cat ingests, they could become much more excited or much calmer. Some cats will lick, chew, sniff, shake, or rub themselves in the catnip. The effects of it generally last around only 10-15 minutes, and it is very rare that a cat will become aggressive after ingesting it. Generally, catnip is considered a safe, non-toxic and non-addictive substance for your feline companions to enjoy under supervision. 

Most cats will walk away when they have had enough, and there is not a specific dosage or amount that you need to worry about giving to your cat. At the very worst, an upset stomach could occur in cats who overindulge. If you have any concerns about your cat’s reaction to catnip, you can always call your veterinarian for advice. 

Still curious about cats and catnip? Call our friendly team at New Haven Pet Hospital at (260) 493-3739 with questions about catnip or other ways to keep your cats safely entertained at home. We’re here to care for your cats