How Long Does Catnip Take To Kick In?

Updated August 27, 2023

Cat owners inexperienced with catnip often wonder – how long does catnip take to kick in, and how long does the catnip effect last?

There’s no universal answer because the effect’s set-off and duration depend on many variables.

The primary factors affecting catnip “high” duration are how the herb was administered, the dose, and the cat’s peculiarities, such as tolerance and metabolism.

Catnip products intended for eating, such as catnip treats, take longer to kick in than products created for sniffing, such as loose catnip, catnip bubbles, and sprays. The effect on a cat’s behavior also differs.

Still, knowing an approximate timeline can help you plan accordingly and understand whether the dose was sufficient.

Ingesting Catnip

How long will catnip take to kick in depends on the dose and how it was administered. The element in catnip responsible for its magical effect on cats is called nepetalactone – an essential oil mimicking feline mating pheromones.

When nepetalactone enters a cat’s bloodstream, it binds to proteins responsible for provoking sensory neuron responses. This neuronal cluster is located in the amygdala region of the brain and causes emotional changes.

Additionally, catnip affects the hypothalamus – the control center of a cat’s brain responsible for both voluntary and involuntary action regulation, including breathing and body movements.

When a cat ingests catnip, for example, by eating catnip treats or loose catnip, the effect isn’t immediate because catnip must bypass other organs before reaching the brain.

First, the herb travels throughout the gastroenteric tract, where a cat’s stomach acid digests it. Then, nepetalactone from catnip absorbs into the stomach lining and intestines, entering the bloodstream.

But nepetalactone doesn’t travel directly to the brain. It first must be metabolized by the liver and go through other vital organs until it reaches the destination.

Because the liver metabolizes the element, its concentration significantly reduces, changing the effect on a cat’s behavior. This phenomenon is known as the first-pass effect or first-pass metabolism.

Usually, catnip has a stimulating effect, causing cats to become hyperactive and agitated. However, because of the lower nepetalactone concentration, ingested catnip acts as a sedative, making cats mellow and sleepy.

But let’s get back to the timing. Because nepetalactone needs to travel such a long way, catnip kicks in only after half an hour or more, depending on the dose and a cat’s metabolism speed.

So, if you need to sedate your cat before a vet visit or another stressful event, give it catnip in advance because the effect won’t be immediate. Don’t give your cat loose catnip or catnip toys because they will make it more active.

Inhaling Catnip

If you want to encourage your cat to play, don’t let it eat catnip because it will have the opposite effect. Keep the toys ready – you won’t have much time until the herb kicks in.

Catnip kicks in significantly faster when inhaled than ingested because it doesn’t have to travel through the cat’s digestive tract and liver. Any substance kicks in quicker if inhaled, so catnip isn’t unique.

Nepetalactone essential oil vapors instantly hit the nasal membrane when a cat smells loose catnip or catnip spray or plays with catnip toys. The membrane then absorbs the element and passes it into the bloodstream.

But while the nose and brain are close, nepetalactone doesn’t travel directly into the brain. Instead, it goes through the entire body until it reaches the amygdala area of the brain.

While the way isn’t as short as it may seem, it still takes significantly less time than if nepetalactone had to go through the digestive tract first. Consequently, inhaled catnip kicks in almost immediately.

Some cats may feel the effect in seconds, while others need over 10 minutes. Still, the set-off is quick, and the reaction is always the same – catnip acts as a stimulant, causing cats to roll on the ground, become more active, and vocalize.

Catnip typically kicks in suddenly, so you won’t miss when your cat starts feeling the effect. In contrast, when the effect wears off, it does so gradually.

Why Does Catnip Take So Long to Kick In?

Occasionally, catnip takes more than expected to kick in, causing owners to wonder whether something is wrong with the product or their pet. The reasons catnip doesn’t kick in as expected are numerous.

The most plausible explanation for catnip taking long to kick in is that the dose was too low. This is unlikely if a cat sniffs catnip because cats only stop when they’ve had enough unless the owner takes away the herb earlier.

However, a low dose is likely if a cat was given catnip to eat. In that case, you may try to give your cat more. Sometimes, cats develop tolerance to catnip and need higher doses to feel the same effect.

Another possible reason catnip takes too long to kick in is that it has gone old. Catnip doesn’t really go bad because it’s dry, but it does lose potency, similar to how herbs on your spice rack love their flavor over time.

As nepetalactone in catnip breaks down, the herb loses its magic. The lower the concentration of the active element, the more time catnip takes to kick in, and the less noticeable the effect.

The solution is simple – buy a new package of catnip or refresh your cat’s toys with catnip spray. Lastly, how fast catnip kicks in depends on a cat’s metabolism.

Old and obese cats tend to have a slower metabolism than young, active felines. As a result, their organs don’t work as effectively, and blood takes more time to make a full cycle.

Because catnip takes more time to reach the brain, it kicks in later.

Why Doesn’t Catnip Kick In?

Some cats show no behavioral changes after ingesting or sniffing catnip, no matter how much time passes. If your cat doesn’t react to catnip, it may be unresponsive to its effects entirely.

Catnip has a reputation as the most desired substance among all cats globally. However, only 50%-75% of cats can feel its effects. Responsiveness to catnip is inherited, so if a mother cat reacts to catnip, so will her kittens.

From these figures, we can conclude that 25%-50% of cats are unresponsive to catnip.

They lack the gene responsible for recognizing nepetalactone. Fortunately, many catnip alternatives, such as silvervine and Tatarian honeysuckle, have a similar effect.

If you own a kitten, it’s no wonder that catnip doesn’t kick in. Kittens are unresponsive to catnip until they reach at least six months of age. Because nepetalactone mimics feline mating pheromones, it only affects sexually mature cats.

If you want to encourage a kitten to play (as if they needed encouragement!) or calm it down before a vet visit or a long car trip, try Tatarian honeysuckle – it affects all cats regardless of age.

Lastly, your cat may have developed tolerance if it has had catnip too frequently or in high doses. Catnip isn’t addictive, but it’s in a way similar to drugs because cats need more and more of it to feel the same “high.”

Typically, the issue can be resolved with a pause or a higher dose. Refrain from giving your cat catnip for several weeks, then try again.

How much catnip to give a cat depends on many factors, but most cats need half of a teaspoon to one tablespoon.

Often, giving a cat more potent catnip is better than increasing the dose – fresh catnip is the most potent of all products.

How Long Does Catnip Effect Last?

The catnip effect duration depends on how the herb was administered, the dose, a cat’s metabolism, and other variables. As a rule of thumb, the catnip effect lasts for 10-30 minutes when a cat inhales the herb.

The effect is so short-lived because nepetalactone enters the brain quickly. In contrast, the effect of ingesting catnip typically lasts for an hour to several hours, promoting healthy, deep sleep.

However, some cats will only feel the effect for half an hour because the dose is low or they have already built a tolerance. Catnip’s effect wears off gradually, so you won’t notice a rapid change in your cat’s behavior.

If your cat has inhaled catnip, it will little by little become less agitated and energetic. Some cats experience food cravings after the catnip effect wears off or head to sleep.

If your cat has ingested catnip, the moment when the effect wears off will be even less noticeable. Some cats will remain mellow for the entire day, while others will regain their energy levels.

Note that cats cannot experience catnip’s effect again as soon as the first “high” goes away because they become temporarily desensitized to the herb’s smell.

Typically, a cat needs half an hour to several hours to regain responsiveness to catnip, but even then, giving a cat catnip twice a day isn’t recommended. Veterinarians advise limiting catnip consumption to one or two times a week.

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