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Why do Cats Roll in Catnip? 5 Common Reasons

Written by: Lorre Luther

Last Updated on June 7, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat smelling catnip

Why do Cats Roll in Catnip? 5 Common Reasons

Most cats love catnip. There might be nothing more adorable than the concentrated energy cats bring to every interaction involving this powerful plant. But after watching your cat enjoy losing themselves in a good catnip high, you might be curious about why cats enjoy the plant so much.

Big cats also enjoy getting in on the excitement. Lions and tigers have been known to enjoy a nice bit of catnip. But not all cats enjoy the herb. Approximately 30% of cats don’t have the genes required to appreciate the plant.

Catnip has several benefits regarding feline health; it even works as a painkiller in some cats. But the fundamental reason that cats roll in catnip is because they enjoy the high the plant provides. Below you’ll find five reasons why cats roll in catnip and can’t seem to get enough of the plant.

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The 5 Reasons Why Cats Roll in Catnip

1. Catnip Has Stimulating Qualities

Catnip inspires cats to get up and move. When left to their own devices, most cats find many ways to entertain themselves after enjoying a bit of catnip. Typical activities include running about, batting at imaginary creatures, rolling around on the ground, and wreaking havoc.

It’s a great way to motivate feline couch potatoes for a good play session. Cats that aren’t accustomed to regular exercise should be eased into things, with play sessions kept to under 10 minutes to ensure the activity doesn’t stress their heart and joints. Once cats are comfortable with regular exercise, they can usually handle four 10-minute play sessions daily.

It pays to limit the frequency that cats get to enjoy catnip. Cats can’t overdose on the plant but will become desensitized if they use too much.

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2. Catnip Has Sedative Properties

Many cat owners swear by catnip as a feline sedative. Some cats become incredibly mellow after eating a bit of the plant. Cats typically react differently depending on whether they sniff or eat catnip. Cats that sniff the plant often get a serious energy boost. In contrast, those who consume its leaves, flowers, or stems tend to become active for a short time and then zonk out for a long nap.

If you’re interested in having plenty of fresh catnip for calming purposes on hand, consider growing your own. It’s just about the perfect plant for a container garden. Many gardeners prefer to plant catnip in containers to prevent the hearty herb from crowding out other plants. It likes moist but not super wet soil and lots of sunlight. It grows well on window ledges.


3. Catnip Has Pain-Killing Benefits

Catnip has pain-killing properties that often provide a fair amount of relief to cats suffering from osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs more often in older cats, with anywhere from 70%–90% of cats over 12 showing symptoms of the disease. Obesity is the most common cause of the condition, which often affects cats’ spines, elbows, and hips.

While there’s no cure for arthritis, there are several ways to improve the life of a cat with joint pain. Maintaining a healthy weight is the key to minimizing feline arthritis pain. Once a cat has been diagnosed with the disease, many veterinarians recommend nutritional supplementation with joint-friendly nutrients such as glucosamine and chondroitin. Other medications, such as gabapentin, are often prescribed for pain.

Many owners find catnip works well as a painkiller, particularly when consumed orally. Veterinary catnip tinctures offer a simple way to provide precise dosages of the active ingredient in the plant.

cat eating catnip outdoors
Image By: Julia Wolf, Flickr

4. Catnip Has Appetite-Stimulating Effects

Cats suffering from stress often shy away from eating. Lack of appetite, excessive licking, pacing, and excessive vocalization are often signs of feline anxiety. Cats who are highly stressed often eat more after getting hold of a bit of the plant. Catnip, unlike cannabis, doesn’t generally give cats the munchies. Instead, it works by lowering anxiety, which then makes it easier for stressed-out cats to eat.

Catnip, when eaten, appears to provide strong anxiety-reducing and calming effects. But most cats relax at the end of a catnip-induced romp, whether the plant is eaten or sniffed, although nibbling on fresh catnip is the gold standard when it comes to calming. Dried flakes are perfect for motivating cats to run about and play. Getting sufficient exercise often helps manage feline anxiety and sometimes leads to an increased desire to eat. Store dried catnip in the freezer to keep it fresh.


5. Catnip Has Anxiety-Reducing Properties

Anxiety is a common issue among domestic cats. Cats suffering from the condition often vocalize excessively, lose interest in food, and lick themselves to the point of baldness. It’s commonly triggered by long-term exposure to stressors such as repeated loud noises or major changes in a cat’s environment. Home renovations and the arrival of a new baby often cause feline anxiety.

Super intelligent breeds with high activity demands, such as Bengal cats, are also prone to depression if they don’t get enough mental engagement or physical exercise. Cats often show anxiety and depression through needy or destructive behavior. Even though a good catnip high usually starts out with lots of energy, most cats become calm and relaxed after the initial buzz wears off, making this a good tool for managing anxiety in cats. Cats need to eat the plant for the anxiety reduction qualities to kick in.

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

3 cat dividerFinal Thoughts

While most cats who enjoy catnip probably do so because of the general high that comes with a good sniff of the plant, this versatile plant offers many other benefits to cats. Catnip works wonders in reducing pain and anxiety, giving pet parents a non-pharmaceutical alternative that often helps cats suffering from osteoarthritis or separation anxiety.

It’s easy to grow, doing well in outdoor container gardens and indoors on sunny window ledges. Properly stored dried catnip doesn’t go bad, although it loses potency over time. But ultimately, cats roll in catnip because they enjoy the feeling and sensations of a good catnip high.


Featured Image Credit: Kassel95, Pixabay

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