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Does Catnip Calm Cats? Vet Approved Facts, How It Works & FAQ

Written by: Kristin Hitchcock

Last Updated on June 7, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat smelling catnip

Does Catnip Calm Cats? Vet Approved Facts, How It Works & FAQ


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

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

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While humans often see catnip as a “drug” for cats, it doesn’t work in this way. Instead, catnip contains an oil that is similar to a pheromone that cats produce. This substance is called nepetalactone and can cause a range of different behaviors in cats. For instance, Catnip reduces stress and this may help some cats to calm down.

If anything, catnip can provide a distraction for cats. Therefore, if your cat is concerned about something in its environment (like a new cat or schedule changes), catnip can provide a distraction.

However, catnip does affect cats differently. Therefore, some cats will become euphoric, and some will be calmer. Luckily, catnip usually doesn’t have lasting effects on cats. For this reason, there aren’t many concerns with at least trying catnip on a stressed feline.

Not every cat responds to catnip, and their sensitivity seems to be genetic. About 80% of cats do have a response to catnip, though its intensity will also vary.

Cat ball divider 1Does Catnip Make a Cat Hyper or Calm?


Keep in mind: if you decide to use catnip for your feline’s stress, the effects only last for about 10-15 minutes. After that, it won’t affect them again for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2-3 hours. It depends on the feline. Therefore, this isn’t a substance that can be used long-term; it simply doesn’t last long enough.

Generally, catnip makes most cats euphoric, however, some cats do become calm. Statistically speaking, most cats do have positive behavioral changes when exposed to catnip or at least don’t have much of a temperament change. Still, a few cats might become hyper, or even aggressive.

There is a ceiling to catnip’s effects. Therefore, giving your cat more catnip won’t make them calmer (or more aggressive). Plus, the effects only last for a few minutes. Therefore, there isn’t much reason to avoid giving your cat catnip because you don’t know how they may react. Go ahead and give it a try!

There is no reason to give your cat more than one or two portions of catnip a day. While long-term catnip use isn’t well studied, we know cats typically only respond strongly to catnip once every couple of hours. Furthermore, cats can build up mild tolerance over time so repeated use may make your cat less calm or euphoric when exposed.

Image Credit: Doug McLean, Shutterstock

How Do You Use Catnip to Calm a Cat?

If a cat is going to react calmly to catnip, you just have to expose it to them. It’s the smell or the ingestion of the catnip’s oils that causes behavioral changes. Therefore, you can sprinkle it in their food, put it inside a toy, or even spray catnip on a favorite bed or resting spot.

While catnip isn’t harmful if consumed, cats don’t react well to large quantities on their stomach and may get an upset stomach because of it. Moderation is key!

There isn’t anything special you need to do in an attempt to trying catnip to calm your cat. A cat’s reaction is controlled by their genes. Some cats will become euphoric, some will calm down, and others may not react at all. Very few cats may also get aggressive, though this is rare.

There aren’t any different types of catnip that may affect your cat differently. Remember, it’s a specific oil in the catnip that affects the cat—and all catnip plants have this oil.

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Does Catnip Help Cats with Anxiety?

Catnip is known to calm many cats. Therefore, many humans may consider it an option for anxious cats. However, it isn’t the best solution to manage anxious cats.

Firstly, the effects of catnip are extremely short-lived. Most cats will react to catnip for only about 5 to 15  minutes. After that, they become immune to the effects for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2-3 hours. Therefore, if your cat has chronic (or even acute) stress, catnip isn’t going to help very much. It just doesn’t last long enough.

Secondly, cats can develop a mild tolerance to catnip over time. If you use catnip regularly to help control their anxiety, they may stop reacting. For this reason, you’ll want to pair catnip with different calming methods if you decide to use it.

Thirdly, not all cats calm substantially when exposed to catnip. While many cats do exhibit some level of calm response, others do not. Some cats don’t show substantial temperament changes at all. Only about 80% of cats are affected by catnip—and a portion of cats that are affected only show minor effects. Plus, some cats react the opposite—becoming aggressive and even more hyper.

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

Therefore, while catnip may help some cats calm down for a short period, it isn’t the best treat to manage anxiety. It simply doesn’t affect many cats strongly enough to fix anxiety issues.

Can Catnip Instantly Calm a Cat?

Sometimes. A cat’s response to catnip is greatly affected by their genes. Some cats may calm substantially, while others may not be affected at all. Even cats that calm in response to catnip often don’t calm down substantially. If a cat is stressed out, catnip alone likely won’t do much to combat their anxiety.

Of course, catnip does not have any major side effects. Therefore, there is little reason to avoid using it. If you’re looking for a way to calm your feline, catnip may be a helpful part of a plan. However, it likely won’t be the only step you need to take.

Furthermore, if your cat is extremely anxious for a long time, you should get them checked out by a vet to ensure that there isn’t an underlying health issue. There are medical treatment options for very anxious cats. Some felines are simply higher strung than others, and they may benefit from medication or a different solution to approach their stress.

Like humans, stress can be very troublesome for a cat’s health. It can directly lead to diseases and complications if not addressed. Therefore, cats should be able to live free from stress and anxiety.

Cat ball divider 1Conclusion

Catnip is a well-known plant that affects how a cat acts—for the very short term.  Most cat owners will get their cats catnip at some point if only to see how it affects them. However, catnip isn’t much more than a fun pastime for most cats. While it can produce a calming response, this doesn’t occur strongly in every cat. Cats that feel very calm when exposed to catnip will find that the effects wear off quickly.

Catnip simply doesn’t last long enough for it to be very effective at treating anxiety and chronic stress. However, it can calm cats for about 5-15 minutes, assuming that’s how the particular cat reacts to the plant.


Featured Image Credit: Kassel95, Pixabay

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