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High on catnip: The science behind the kitty drug

Ever wonder why your cat has such a funny reaction to catnip? The reaction is much more scientific than you may think. Here are the reasons your kitty gets “high” off of catnip.

Cat who loves catnip

What is it?

Although favored by kitties, catnip is used for humans to aid in the effects of insomnia, headaches, arthritis, and respiratory problems to name a few.

Often considered a weed, catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the mint family native to Europe. A perennial herb, the plant can grow up to three feet tall with white purple spotted flowers on the ends of its branches.

How does it work?

The chemical nepetalactone is to credit for your kitty’s crazy reaction to catnip. The chemical, which is a mild hallucinogen, doesn’t affect humans in the same sense as we do not rely as heavily on our noses as cats do. In fact, it doesn’t even affect all cats. Since the chemical reaction is genetic, some kitties may have no interest in the catnip if given to them, while others may have an aggressive reaction. If this is the case, keep your kitty away from catnip.


Isolated cat

Rubbing, sniffing, licking, eating and rolling in the catnip are possible reactions that your cat may have if exposed to the plant. Due to the intoxication-like reaction, catnip is often referred to as “the kitty drug” and can result in some pretty funny kitty movements. It looks as if your cat is truly having a good time! Some cat parents reportedly see their cat have an increase in vocalization and a seemingly sexual arousal to catnip. And two minutes later, your kitty is completely unaffected. Exposed again one to two hours later, kitty will have the same reaction as the first time.

Almost the reverse affect in humans, catnip creates a calming sensation when used for common ailments. And although there are some negative side effects, catnip can be ingested or applied directly to the skin. As with all drugs, please refer to your doctor for specific directions and perscription.

How to Expose Your Cat

Catnip can be given to your cat in a variety of ways. Give your kitty a catnip mouse for $2 from Petco, a catnip infused ball for $1 from Enchantacat or a catnip banana from KV Supply priced at $8. You can also find catnip climbing furniture, spray and nibblers for kitty all found at

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