Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
What effect does catnip have on cats? © Getty Images

What effect does catnip have on cats?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

Cats seem to go crazy for catnip, but not all of them are invited to the party.

Asked by: Rachel Coss, Littlehampton


The active ingredient in catnip is nepetalactone. This is a volatile oil, which binds to the sensory receptors in a cat’s nose that are normally used to detect sexual pheromones. This creates a ‘high’ that lasts for about 10 minutes and is perfectly non-addictive and harmless to the cat. But about a quarter of cats lack the gene that allows them to enjoy catnip, and kittens under eight weeks seem to be actively repelled by it.


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.


luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.


Sponsored content