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How Far Away Can Cats Smell Catnip? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on June 7, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat smelling catnip

How Far Away Can Cats Smell Catnip? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ


Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo


Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Compared to humans, cats have a superior sense of smell, sometimes able to detect scents as far as 1.5 to 4 miles away. In fact, a cat’s sense of smell is 14 times more accurate than our own. However, that sensitivity varies depending on what’s emitting the scent.

For instance, it’s easier for a cat to pick up a whiff of sizzling steak than smell a cup of orange juice. But what about catnip? Read on to find out!

divider 3 paws

What Is Catnip?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a herbaceous perennial plant native to Eurasia, but it also thrives in North America. You can recognize the plant by its light green foliage and lavender flowers. The plant is a member of the mint family, and some people use it for tea. Its flowers are also an ingredient in some bug sprays since they are a potent insect repellent.

How Sensitive Are Cats’ Noses to Catnip?

Cats are extremely sensitive to the scent emitted by catnip. As such, they can probably smell the minty herb from a mile away (1.6 kilometers). Researchers believe that cats can smell catnip even if it’s 1:1 billion parts of the air they breathe. Planting catnip in your garden will certainly attract cats to your yard, including stray ones!

cat with green eyes in catnip
Image Credit by: Georgia Evans, Shutterstock

Apart From Smelling, Can Cats Eat Catnip?

Yes, it’s safe for cats to eat catnip. Ingesting the herb doesn’t have any adverse effects. In fact, evidence shows that catnip might be beneficial for the cat’s digestive tract. Healthy adult people can also eat catnip in small amounts without any health repercussions.

How Does Catnip Affect Cats?

Most animals have a single olfactory organ, but cats have an extra one known as the vomeronasal gland. This special structure is found on the roof of the mouth and carries scent from the nose and mouth to the brain.

Catnip leaves contain an oil called nepetalactone. This oil causes behavioral changes in approximately 60% of cats when they smell it. The substance mimics feline pheromones, and the effects are seen in both male and female cats.

On smelling catnip, cats display overt affection, relaxation, and happiness. Some cats, however, show extreme playfulness and sometimes aggression. The substance can be especially advantageous to cats that react well to it. That’s because it can work as a form of enrichment.

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Are the Effects the Same on All Cats?

Cats react differently to catnip. It is thought that approximately 50% to 60% of cats respond actively to catnip. With some cats, catnip makes them mellow and relaxed. While in others, it makes them playful and a tad aggressive. It’s worth noting that some cats don’t react at all to catnip. The variable response to catnip among cats is due to the differences in their personality and their genetic makeup. 

How Long Do the Effects Last on Cats?

Cats can have different reactions to catnip. This also means that the length of the substance’s effects varies from cat to cat. However, on average, the effects take about 10 minutes to wear off. After the effects wear off, it will take about half an hour for the catnip to affect the cat again.

It’s important to store catnip in an airtight container or zip-lock bag to retain its freshness. Otherwise, it’ll lose its potency and have zero effect on your cat.

Gray Cat Enjoying Fresh Catnip_Anna Hoychuk_shutterstock
Image Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

Does Catnip Keep Cats Calm?

Yes. Catnip has therapeutic effects that help alleviate anxiety in cats. That’s why some cat owners use catnip to help their cats deal with separation anxiety. You can also use it when introducing a new cat to your current one. Just hope that it won’t trigger aggression in any of the cats.

Can Your Cat Become Addicted to Catnip?

Research shows that catnip doesn’t have any long-term effects on a cat’s brain or any other body part. As such, it’s impossible for your cat to become addicted to catnip. However, you might want to tread softly with how much catnip you give your cat.

Exposing your cat to too much catnip could lead to problems like diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, and trouble with balance. It’s also worth noting that fresh catnip is more potent than dried catnip. Only administer a little at a time. If you’re uncertain, speak to your vet for advice on the same.

How to Correctly Administer Catnip

There are many ways to give your cat some catnip to help them relax or calm their anxiety. These ways include:

  • Catnip spray
  • Fresh catnip
  • Dried catnip
  • Catnip toys

These are great ways to get some catnip into your cat’s system. Spray catnip on your cat’s favorite scratcher tree, and let the herb work its magic.

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Final Thoughts

Cats are incredibly sensitive to catnip. So, if you want a few roaming your lawn, plant a herb or two and watch them swarm. Remember, you don’t have to plant catnip in your garden or even buy dried catnip. You could always buy catnip-infused toys or catnip sprays. Just be sure to get them from a reputable brand. Your cat will thank you for it.

Featured Image Credit: Kassel95, Pixabay

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