Cats In A Spin Over Catnip

Cats In A Spin Over Catnip

As you may know from your own pet, if there’s one thing that is guaranteed to send your cat a little dizzy it’s their catnip toy. Big cats are no exception and one of the favourite enrichment activities we give our cats is their regular catnip fix.

What Exactly Is Catnip?

Nepeta cataria (also known as catnip, catswort, or catmint) is a plant of the Lamiaceae family. It has been used as a medicinal herb for humans over centuries and provides a nice calming tea, tincture or juice. It has also been smoked and was used in poultices at one time. The ctive ingredient in catnip is Nepetalactone, and it is this chemical compound that causes catnip’s greatest claim to fame, that of a stimulant for cats. If you have ever given your cat a catnip toy you will know that they simply can’t resist it. Typical reactions to catnip by cats include

  • Rolling over on their backs
  • Chewing or rubbing their faces in it
  • Throwing a catnip toy around
  • Blissful demeanour expression
  • Running round the room
  • Mewing

Why Do Cats React In This Way?

It is believed that Nepetalactone acts as a psychosexual stimulant on cats. They breathe in the scent through their noses where it binds to olfactory receptors. The oil from catnip leaves contains a chemical called trans-neptalactone, the odor of which closely resembles a substance present in a female cat’s urine. It is believed to have an effect somewhat like that of a pheromone. This explains the frisky behaviour you see in the cats. It wears off quite quickly, after between 5-15 minutes, and approximately an hour later so they will respond again. If you see your cat chewing the herb they are not trying to eat it. It is more likely that they are trying to press the active ingredient against the pallet to get more of its effect. We chop out catnip up, as you can see in the video. It is best to remove the stalks and crush the buds and leaves for them. Don’t ever put it in their food however, as it is not particularly good for the digestion.

Do Big Cats Really Like Catnip?

Here at the Big Cat Rescue Centre we know that our big cats are not so very different to your own pet at home. We know that catnip is a special treat for cats and have fun watching our animals get pleasure too. One of the best times of the week is when we give the cats a paper bag with a handful of catnip inside and watch them rip it apart for the aroma. Our cats act dizzy, just like yours. It was thought at one time that tigers didn’t react to catnip, but we know differently. Watch our video to see for our Big Cats enjoy their treat.



Mountain lions, lynx, bobcats, tigers and jungle lions all respond to catnip in the same way. There is no doubt at all that they’re all from the same family. However, the capacity to enjoy catnip is hereditary, so if a big cat’s parents didn’t enjoy it then they won’t either. If your cat doesn’t respond, don’t worry. About 25% of cats don’t react to catnip at all, and kittens – either wild or domestic – and older cats don’t seem to be interested.


Can Too Much Catnip Be Harmful?

No! Our tigers and cats are given their treat just occasionally, and there is no chance of them becoming addicted to it. If anything overexposure works in the opposite way. If cats are given catnip too often they can become immune to it. Twice a week is probably the best rate to let your cat have his catnip toy. We let our cats have their bags of once a week. We keep our supplies of their precious herb in an airtight container, to keep it fresh. Nepetalactone is UV photosensitive and if exposed to sunlight for too long will eventually lose its scent. It is best to store it in a dark place for this reason, although some people swear their catnip keep its potency for years. Our catnip herbs don’t have a chance to lose their strength. With all our animals to keep happy we have to find quite a lot of catnip to make sure they have all had an equal amount.

If you come to the Sanctuary on a visit and see our big cats rolling around being friendly to a paper bag, you now know exactly why they are so happy!

Izzy Woods is an animal lover with more than her fair share of cats. When she’s not writing copy for Princess Cruises or contributing to cat-related publications, she’s spending time with her own pets.

Videos of the Cats with Catnip

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