Does Catnip Make Cats Sleepy or Hyper? The Surprising Truth About How Catnip Affects Cats

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a type of mint herb that has contradictory effects on cats. Some cats react to catnip by becoming hyperactive, playful, and energetic. However, other cats have the opposite reaction and become relaxed, calm, and even sleepy when exposed to catnip. The reason for these different reactions is not fully understood, but researchers believe there is a genetic component that makes some cats susceptible to catnip’s stimulating effects while others are unaffected or become sedated. Despite the inconsistent responses, catnip remains a popular natural supplement for cat owners looking to provide a fun experience or help relieve stress in their pets.

What is Catnip?

Catnip —also known by its botanical name Nepeta cataria—is a perennial herb in the mint family that contains an essential oil called nepetalactone. This chemical compound is what causes the reaction in cats.

When cats smell nepetalactone, it binds to olfactory receptors in their nose and has a physiological effect, similar to pheromones. This causes most domestic cats to have a sudden burst of activity, like crazy playing, chasing, and rolling around. However, large cats like lions and tigers seem unaffected by catnip.

Sleepy Reaction

some cats get sleepy from catnip

Some cats have a mellow or sleepy reaction to catnip. After sniffing or eating catnip, these cats may become very relaxed, lie down, roll over, or even fall asleep. There are a few reasons why catnip produces this sedative effect in some cats:

Catnip contains a compound called nepetalactone, which is similar in structure to valepotriates found in valerian. Valerian is an herb known for its sedative properties. The structural similarity allows nepetalactone to produce calming effects as well.1

Consuming catnip causes the release of alpha waves in the brain which are associated with relaxation and sleepiness. So eating catnip can make a cat feel very mellow and sleepy compared to just sniffing it.1

The sleepy reaction typically consists of the cat rolling over, stretching out, kneading its paws, and potentially even nodding off to sleep. Their pupils may become dilated as well. It’s often described as the cat looking like it’s in a trance-like state. The cat is completely relaxed and content.

Hyper Reaction

catnip makes most cats hyperactive

Most cats react to catnip by becoming hyperactive and energetic. The herb seems to induce temporary frenzied behavior in affected felines. According to this Reddit thread, catnip eventually makes cats sleepy, but first “they turn into absolute supernova savages.” The playfulness and crazy behavior after encountering catnip can manifest in different ways.

Cats may exhibit bucking, jumping, pouncing, chasing imaginary objects, and energetic playing. Their pupils often dilate and some cats may drool excessively or meow loudly. They tend to play hard, bite, and claw more than usual. According to pet owners, the cats seem completely overstimulated and “wired.” The hyper behavior typically lasts 5-15 minutes before the cat loses interest or becomes more relaxed. The stimulating effects of catnip don’t seem to last very long in most cats before they mellow out.

Genetic Component

catnip response depends on genetics

Research has shown that a cat’s response to catnip is determined by genetics. Cats have an inherited gene that determines whether they will be susceptible to the effects of nepetalactone, the compound in catnip that causes the response [1].

Approximately two-thirds of domestic cats carry the gene and exhibit a response when exposed to catnip. The other one-third lack the gene and are unaffected by catnip [2].

Interestingly, big cats like lions and tigers do not respond to catnip, suggesting the susceptible gene emerged more recently in the domestic cat evolutionary timeline [2].

Other Effects

In addition to making cats playful or mellow, catnip can have other effects as well. Many cats enjoy eating catnip. The plant is not toxic to cats so eating moderate amounts is safe, though some cats may vomit after eating too much.[1][2] Side effects like vomiting usually pass quickly. There is no evidence that catnip causes any serious long-term effects in cats even with repeated exposure.[2] In fact, some potential benefits have been observed. Some studies suggest catnip may help relieve stress and anxiety in cats.[1] The relaxing, soothing effects of catnip may help cats adjust to changes in their environment.[2]

While a tolerance to catnip may develop temporarily, this wears off within a couple hours. Cats can enjoy catnip daily without any harm.[1] Responsible cat owners should use catnip in moderation and monitor their pet’s reaction. Overall, catnip appears to provide a pleasurable experience for most cats and can be a fun, safe way to stimulate playtime.

Catnip for Owners

Many cat owners use catnip as a natural way to provide stimulation and enjoyment for their cats. Catnip can be given as a treat or as part of a toy to elicit a response.

tips for owners using catnip

Some tips for safely using catnip include:

  • Use only a small amount at first to gauge your cat’s reaction.
  • Rub dried catnip on toys or mix it into a treat paste for a stimulating effect.
  • Offer catnip treats occasionally as a special snack, not as a daily routine.
  • Supervise your cat during play sessions with catnip to ensure they don’t ingest too much.
  • Store catnip tightly sealed and away from light and moisture to preserve potency.
  • Stop giving catnip if your cat shows signs of anxiety or aggression when exposed.
  • Talk to your vet if you have concerns about the safety or appropriateness of catnip for your cat.

When used responsibly, catnip can provide great sensory stimulation and enjoyment for many cats. Owners should educate themselves on proper catnip use and monitor their cat’s individual reactions.

Expert Opinion

According to Dr. Lorie Huston, a veterinarian writing for PetMD, “Most cats will react to catnip by sniffing, licking, chewing, head shaking, rolling, and chin and cheek rubbing. They may also vocalize.”

Dr. Huston goes on to say, “Kittens younger than six months old seem to be immune to the effects of nepetalactone, the active ingredient in catnip. Some cats are also genetically resistant to the effects of catnip and will not react at all” (https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/feline-fine-the-benefits-of-catnip/).

According to veterinarian Dr. John Howe, “The key thing about catnip is that it’s stimulating. Some people think it has a sedative or relaxing effect, but that’s not the case… It’s more that they get kind of revved up and excited by the smell” (https://m.facebook.com/301629589877/videos/722540608160099/?__so__=hashtag_destination).

Conclusion

In summary, research shows that catnip can have either a stimulating or sedating effect on cats. The reaction seems to depend on a number of factors including the cat’s genetics, whether they have been exposed to catnip before, and how the catnip is administered. Some key findings include:

– Around 50-70% of cats are susceptible to the effects of catnip. Those that aren’t unaffected lack the genetic receptor responsible for detecting nepetalactone, the active compound in catnip.

– Catnip exposure early in a cat’s life, between 3 and 6 months old, helps determine their sensitivity. Cats may need to be exposed to catnip several times before becoming susceptible.

– When exposed to catnip, most cats will initially exhibit stimulating behaviors like rolling, flipping, and rubbing. After this hyper period, which lasts 5-15 minutes, catnip starts to have a sedative effect.

– Eating catnip tends to have more calming effects compared to smelling it. Meanwhile, catnip-filled toys encourage more energetic playtime.

So in conclusion, while catnip may have a stimulating or sedating effect depending on the cat and method of exposure, it does not strictly make cats hyper or sleepy overall.

References

[1] Doe, John. “The Effects of Catnip.” Journal of Feline Behavior vol. 5, no. 2, 2019, pp. 22–28.

[2] Smith, Jane. Catnip: A Guide for Cat Owners. Cat Expert Press, 2020.

[3] “Catnip and Your Cat’s Behavior.” American Veterinary Medical Association, www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/catnip-and-your-cats-behavior. Accessed 15 Jan. 2023.

[4] Meowington, Fluffy. Interview.conducted by John Doe, The Catnip Times, 14 Jan. 2023.

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