Catnip (Nepatia cataria) is part of the mint family of plants, and believe it or not, it actually smells like mint. Catnip is native to North America and its active ingredient is nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is a chemical found in the natural essential oils of the plant’s leaves.
Although it’s non-addictive (it just seems that way for cats), catnip gives felines an intense high that lasts anywhere from a few minutes to more than ten. A cat’s reaction to the nepetalactone is called the “catnip response.” In scientific terms, this means your cat will go absolutely bonkers. Besides running from the farthest reaches of your home to reach the catnip in record time, most of a cat’s reaction to catnip mimics that of stalking and capturing prey.
While some cats eat the catnip, the actual response is generated through their sense of smell (or their olfactory organs for you scientific types). It all adds up to one happy cat, and what – from your cat’s point of view – could be better than that?