Why Do Cats Roll in Catnip?

You put some catnip on the floor earlier and come back to see your cat rolling in it. He seems to really like catnip. Most cats react to it by rolling, rubbing, flipping or zoning out.

Why do cats roll in catnip? Genetic receptors in the cat’s nose make them feel the full effect of catnip. The rolling happens once your cat smells the strong scent of nepetalactone. Your cat does this because of a triggered response through the olfactory system—his sense of smell!

In the following article, we will look at why catnip has the effect that it does on cats and what causes them to roll.

Rolling in Catnip: Hereditary Response

How your cat responds to catnip largely depends on genetics. Some cats may have no reaction to it whatsoever because they don’t have the gene for it. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of cats will respond to catnip.

Kittens under six months usually don’t have a reaction to catnip until they reach sexual maturity.

Catnip acts as a drug through the nepetalactone binding to the inside of your cat’s nose. It usually lasts for 10 to 15 minutes, and he will be immune to its effects for up to 30 minutes after. He rolls in it because it helps him to feel the effect of the catnip.

Other Responses to Catnip

Many people like to watch their cat’s response to catnip because it causes them to act funny. Your cat may display the following behaviors:

  • Rolling
  • Drooling
  • Vocalizing
  • Jumping
  • Rubbing
  • Hyperactive
  • Aggressive

While you can tell that your cat is enjoying himself, it would be a mistake to think that this plant acts the same way as human drugs. They don’t hallucinate and remain totally aware of their surroundings. It simply makes them happy.

Cats will usually stop rolling in it after they have had enough.

Will Catnip Harm Your Cat?

Catnip acts as a mild stimulant, and it has no addictive properties. Some cat behaviorists even believe that catnip may have some benefits, such as stress relief for traveling and introducing a new pet to the home.

You could also use it to relieve your cat of separation anxiety, but it isn’t as much fun when you can’t watch him react to it. Catnip also brings more timid cats out of their shell as they become more playful.

If you’d like to see how your cat responds to catnip, check out From The Field Ultimate Blend Silver Vine/Catnip Mix Tub.

Differences in the Brain

You may be thinking, “Wait, dogs have a strong sense of smell. Why don’t they roll in catnip the way that cats roll in it?” The difference comes down to the same reason that humans don’t feel a reaction to catnip—the differences in the brain.

Several regions of the cat’s brain activate when it rolls in catnip. This includes the hypothalamus and the amygdala. The hypothalamus is considered the regulator of emotions and everything else.

Meanwhile, the amygdala integrates information while governing behavior. The reaction in the cat’s amygdala could explain why he rolls in the catnip. How he reacts, however, will depend on the heredity of the cat. Instead of rolling and becoming hyper, your cat may simply mellow out.

Human and dog brains differ from cats, which explains why they don’t experience what cats experience when coming into contact with catnip.

While the human brain doesn’t respond in the same way as a cat, some Native American tribes used to use catnip tea as a way to control infant colic. It serves as a mild sedative for humans, and some modern herbalists have begun to use it for indigestion, anorexia, nervousness and cramps.

Nepetalactalone—Potent Scent

Cats have over 200 million odor sensors in their nose, which makes the smell of nepetalactone delightful.

One whiff of catnip, and your cat will start to go crazy. How your cat responds depends on whether he simply rolls in it or eats it. Many researchers have found how cats act more mellow when they eat it.

What to Beware of with Catnip

While catnip is non-toxic, your cat can overdose on it. Overindulgence can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, trouble walking and dizziness. Also, beware of giving dried catnip to cats with breathing problems because this can worsen their breathing.

Many times, your cat will know when he has had enough. Fresh catnip offers better potency than dried, so you want to get it fresh if possible. If you have a garden, catnip is widespread and even considered a weed. This will give you the best kind of catnip.

Why do cats roll around in catnip? Your cat probably rolls around because of the effects of the nepetalactone in the catnip. This chemical has a strong and delightful scent to your cat, which makes him go crazy. Researchers believe that it affects the happy sensors in the brain.

Do cats get high on catnip? Cats do not get high on catnip in the traditional sense of the word. Catnip is a mild drug to cats that makes them feel happy. They will, however, remain aware of their surroundings and can usually walk normal.

Do cats eat catnip or just roll around in it? Most cats respond to catnip by rolling around, drooling and hyperactivity. However, some cats will eat the catnip. This tends to have a different reaction where they mellow out, rather than become more hyper and playful. The reaction also depends on the cat.

Is catnip a drug for cats? It would be a mistake to think of catnip as a drug in the same sense of the word as we use it for humans. Catnip is non-addictive, and despite popular opinion that thinks of it as the same as marijuana or cocaine, catnip isn’t like that at all.


While catnip doesn’t act like a drug in the same way as drugs for humans, he rolls in it because that is one of the effects of the catnip. However, how your cat responds to catnip will largely depend on your cat. He may roll around, or he may mellow out in some cases. Some cats have no reaction to catnip because it isn’t in their genetics.

If you enjoyed this article, maybe you will enjoy my article on cats and why they roll in the dirt. It talks about why cats roll in general as well, which is a common behavior among felines.

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