The effects of catnip on cats include sedative, stimulating, or aphrodisiac effects, depending on each individual cat's genetic predisposition to catnip reactions. This particular herb belongs to the same plant family as mint and is sometimes called catmint as a result. A specific chemical called nepetalactone reacts with the receptors of cats' noses and can produce noticeable behavior changes for a certain amount of time. Catnip on cats has relatively the same effects on males and females, and most veterinarians report that different domestic cat species usually have similar reactions to catnip.
Catmint can be ingested as well as inhaled, and the effect of catnip on cats who eat this aromatic herb is often more calming. Some cat owners wonder if eating catnip is safe, but the herb is non-toxic and harmless to the animals. Many cats can sit or lay in the same position for a noticeable length of time soon after eating catnip, and some owners report that their pets seem to be in a fixed trance until the catnip wears off. Veterinarians often recommend that owners spread a small amount of catnip on their cats' beds or scratching post platforms. Catnip mixed into cat food can lead to stomach upsets or changed eating habits in some cats.
Cats who inhale catnip often tend to be hyperactive as a result. They can chase imaginary prey, jump at the air, roll around on the floor, play with their owners or other cats, or meow at higher volumes than usual. Some cats can also be more aggressive or territorial as a side effect of catnip. This behavior is somewhat more common in male cats.
Significant effects of catnip on cats only appear in about half of all cats. This is due to an inherited trait. Tigers, lions, cougars, and other wild cats can also have similar reactions to catnip.
Some cat owners report that their pets who have been exposed to catnip show behavior traits similar to animals in heat. This behavior can appear in male or female cats, an occurrence that animal experts do not fully understand. These particular side effects of catnip on cats can often happen regardless of whether cats have been spayed or neutered. Kittens born to at least one parent who reacts strongly to catnip generally have higher chances of having the same reactions when they get older, as catnip only affects cats older than three to four months.