Cats are infamously attracted to catnip. It's not addictive and it doesn't cause short- or long-term health problems. Some cats might eat too much catnip and throw up, so you may want to limit your cat's exposure to minimize this potential albeit rather innocuous issue.
Catnip is an herb native to Eurasia. It's a member of the mint family, closely related to spearmint and peppermint, and it has a long medicinal history for humans. It's also known as catnep, catmint, catrup and catswort.
All felines, including mountain lions, are attracted to catnip. They'll roll around in catnip plants, rub against them and sometimes chew on them. Cats are more likely to eat fresh catnip leaves, although dried catnip consumption is also common.
Nepetalactone and Reactions
Cats are attracted to a component of catnip's volatile oil called nepetalactone.
Although it's present in only small amounts, nepetalactone from bruised or damaged plants can attract cats from a great distance.
Most cats react to catnip. But some cats -- up to 30 percent, by some estimates -- do not. Catnip sensitivity is a genetic trait.
The plant (and its oil) are neither addictive nor harmful, so there's no need to worry about your cat eating it.
It can be used as a treat or mechanism to encourage exercise. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals even has educational materials about how to build catnip toys.
Catnip stimulates your cat's olfactory system.
Many cats jump and roll around in it. Others salivate, meow, nibble on it and even eat it. Still others become aggressive, although the classic response is uninhibited play.
Some scientists believe that nepetalactone mimics the effects of pheromones. Conclusive proof as to the exact mechanism remains elusive.
Whether stimulating or pacifying, catnip's effects generally last about 15 minutes. Use just enough to get the desired response from your cat. After the effects wear off, it will probably take an hour of zero catnip exposure before the animal reacts as strongly as she did in the previous catnip session.
Daily exposure and even ingestion of small amounts of catnip is fine.
It might even be good for your cat, according to an article about cat enrichment from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
"Most cats get mellow after eating catnip," the Cornell authors wrote. "But if a cat gets overstimulated by the catnip, discontinue the practice for that cat."
You might want to avoid exposing your cat to catnip if she has a sensitive stomach. Some cats eat too much of it, and vomit. This is particularly important if your cat recently took medicine or ate.