What is catnip made of? Is it harmful to my Cat?

By Cami
Updated on
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What Is Catnip Made Of

What is catnip made of? Catnip is a mint plant that gets cats high like marijuana for humans. It is completely harmless to cats. 

From hours of researching catnip, I realized a lot of information on the internet is very difficult to digest. It was long and scientific. So, I set out to create a place with simple and accurate information to share with cat parents about catnip.

Cats love catnip. But we all know, not all things we love are good for us. So, is catnip good for cats? What is catnip made of?
Keep reading to find out:

What is catnip?
How does catnip affect my cat?

Brain & Catnip
Behaviors from Catnip
Duration of Catnip Effects

Benefits of Catnip
Caution When Giving Catnip
How to use Catnip

What is catnip Made Of?

Catnip is a plant from the mint family. The scientific name for catnip is Nepeta cataria. This plant can grow up to 3 feet tall and contains volatile oils, sterols, acids, and tannins. Catnip is native to Europe, Africa, and Asia, but it was later brought to America. 

The catnip you often see sold in pet stores is the dried version of this plant. They are more potent than the fresh version of this plant.

How does catnip affect my cat?

For peace of our cat parent’s minds, catnip is non-addictive, non-toxic, and completely harmless to your feline friends. 

The active ingredient in catnip is nepetalactone. It is stored in microscopic bulbs that coat the plant’s stems, leaves, and seedpods. When the pods rupture, the nepetalactone stored inside will release into the air. Your cat then sniffs these particles in the air and becomes “high”. Kittens younger than 6 months and seniors are less reactive or can be unreactive to catnip. 

There is nothing wrong with your adult cat if they are not responding to catnip. Their genes predetermine if they will react to catnip or not. Around 50-80% of cats react to catnip. If you want to find an alternative, valerian root or silver vine can be an option. 

Surprisingly, more cats are responsive to silver vines. Although cats love valerian root, humans can find it stinky and pungent (like dirty socks and stinky cheese…together). Maybe the love for your cat can overcome that obstacle, right? 

Even if your cat is reactive to catnip, it doesn’t mean you can’t give these alternatives. It is a good idea to rotate these around to keep them fresh with your cat. Like humans, cats may like variety and surprises too!

Furry Fun Fact

Big cats like tigers and lions can get high from catnip too!

Brain & Catnip

The nepetalactone from catnip reaches your cat’s brain through their nose. The nasal receptors of your cat react to nepetalactone and those receptors send signals to the brain. It will stimulate the sensory neurons in the olfactory bulb, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus. 

These places in the brain regulate your cat’s emotional and arousal responses. From this stimulus, your cat will experience a sense of intense euphoria and intoxication. The more catnip inhales in one sitting, the more intense the experience will be.

Behaviors from Catnip

All cats react differently to catnip. Like humans, they have happy drunks, angry drunks, or loving drunks too! 

Not only so, but cats also have passive and active reactions to catnip. Passive reactions are sphinx-like positions, less meowing and vocalizations, and fewer movements. Examples of active reactions sniffing, licking, head shaking, stretching, drooling, jumping, and hyperactivity. Your cat can react passively, actively, or both to catnip.

Duration of Catnip Effects

Usually, one session of catnip takes effect on your cat for 10 to 15 minutes. After the intense effects wear out, your cat can become mellowed or zoned out. Then, your cat is unreactive to catnip from half an hour to a couple of hours. 

Benefits of Catnip

Catnip is a useful tool to keep your cat active. From a physical standpoint, this prevents your cat from being obese. It also stimulates cognitive functions in your cat because it encourages your cat to explore and play. It can decrease their stress level as well.

Caution When Giving Catnip

Although it is not possible to overdose on catnip, having too much can make your cat vomit or have diarrhea. You can adopt some aggressive behaviors as well. 

You also want your cat to have a safe “high”. Make sure you don’t have open windows or terraces where your cat can do some dangerous maneuvers.

If you have multiple cats, you want to know how each cat reacts to catnip before letting them interact with each other on catnip. As we mentioned above, each cat reacts differently. This means, if one cat tends to be meaner or a bully, you can expect that they will be worse on catnip. This can be frightening or dangerous to your other cat(s) that’s just trying to have a good time. 

You can try giving catnip to one cat at a time in a separate room or area. Then, observe their reaction. Are they a mellow drunk? Playful happy drunk? Or aggressive drunk?

How to use Catnip   

The most common way to use catnip is to put it in your cat’s toys or cat tree. This will encourage them to interact and play with the toys more. You can also use it to introduce new toys to your cat, so they can have a positive association with the catnip and the new toy.

You can use catnip as a training aid. It can act as a positive reinforcement treat when your cat does something you want them to do.

If your cat is experiencing high stress in a situation, catnip can lower their stress level. Common scenarios are entering their carrier, going to the vet, or being in a new environment. But, make sure to fully understand your cat’s reaction to catnip before giving it to them in unfamiliar environments. You want to know your cat will not react dangerously to themselves or to those around them.

What to do next

Is your cat a little overweight? Sometimes exercise is not enough. You need to see if you are feeding them properly. Check this article out to see if you are overfeeding your kitty!


Can humans Consume Catnip?

There have been instances human has consumed catnip tea in the past. There isn’t sufficient evidence to show that it is unsafe or safe for inhaling or oral consumption.

Does catnip have the same effects on humans?

It definitely does not have the same “high” effect on humans as on cats. But, it is said to help humans relax, boost moods, and reduce anxiety, restlessness, and nervousness.

Photo of author


Cami spends a lot of her time researching cat care backed up by scientific studies. With a passion for cute kittens, she shares her insights and tips to help you provide the best possible care for your beloved feline friend.