Cats love catnip, and wild and big cats like lions and jaguars are no exception. A fierce lion on catnip can flip into a ludicrously playful mode and roll over, rub its face or run around in a happy mood. Nepetalactone binds the olfactory receptors in the nose to trigger a euphoric neurological response.

If you are eager to know which big cats go nuts with just a few whiffs or a lick of catnip, this post is for you. In general, big cats and wild cats like catnip. We will discuss the big cats that have a strong reaction to catnip and those that react less strongly.

Also, stick around to learn about the behavioral reaction to expect.


What Is Catnip?

Catnip is a perennial herb that causes euphoria in cats. It also grows in the wild in North America, China, and Europe, where wild cats access it for a free high. Catnip is harmless, and cats generally love it for its ability to alleviate stress and offer an enjoyable feeling.

jar of catnip
Image Credit: Gaston Cerliani, Shutterstock

Do Big Cats Love Catnip?

Big cats are quite similar to domestic cats in their reaction to catnip. The herb’s main component, nepetalactone, is found on the plant’s leaves, stems, and seed pods and is a powerful psychosexual stimulant. Its odor mimics the pheromones secreted when female cats are on heat.

Cats with a full-cycle response to nepetalactone include the following:
  • Lions
  • Tigers
  • Jaguars
  • Cougar
  • Leopards
  • Panthers
  • Lynx
  • Pumas

At the sight of a catnip plant, these big cats respond by trying to squeeze out the active ingredient nepetalactone. They could chew the catnip sticks and paw on the leaves and buds to release more nepetalactone in the air.

Like domestic cats, lions, jaguars, and leopards have a strong response to the euphoric effects of catnip. Tigers, bobcats, and cougars have a less strong reaction, while cheetahs seem disinterested in the plant. For cats that love catnip, ingesting the herb in high quantities can cause a tummy upset.

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Big Cats Reaction to Catnip

Catnip can trigger the brain’s happy receptors, although the precise reaction will depend on the genetics and personality of an animal. Big cats that respond to the herb go nuts with just a few whiffs of nepetalactone.

Some of the common reactions to catnip include rubbing, flipping, and rolling around. These cats may also seem hyperactive and more vocal by making louder growls than usual.

The effects of catnip are pretty random, and not all big cats go into a happy mood. Some become aggressive and will seem to look for conflict even when unprovoked. Just like humans, big cats may respond differently to a specific stimulus. Fortunately, even big cats eventually mellow out after a catnip high.

canadian lynx
Image Credit: nicky-pe, Pexels

How Long Does a Catnip High Last?

Catnip is not addictive, and its effects on the brain are short-lived. Domestic cats only enjoy the catnip high for 10 to 15 minutes. However, big cats can enjoy the high for as long as an hour. They also have a shorter reset time of just a few minutes.

Do All Big Cats Respond to Catnip?

A big cat’s response to catnip can be a hit or miss. The capacity to enjoy a catnip high is hereditary, and about 25% of domestic and wild cats lack the gene to go nuts over the herb. Generally, cats in their reproductive age react more strongly to catnip, while cubs and old cats show little or no interest in the herb.

Can Big Cats Get Addicted to Catnip?

Catnip is generally not addictive Cats, and cats, in general, know how to self-regulate. Overexposure can make them immune to the effects of nepetalactone. This means they will, over time, develop a high tolerance and not react to the chemical.

Does Catnip Attract Feral Cats?

Yes. Cats have a strong sense of smell and can be drawn to your catnip garden from miles away. If you don’t want these cats to wander around on your property, you must plan how to keep them away. If you have planted catnip for use in your tea, for instance, consider growing it in a greenhouse or fenced site.

two feral cats on the table
Image Credit: Nathalie Jolie, Unsplash

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Final Thoughts

Catnip is a stimulant loved by cats, both domestic and wild. It’s a happy treat for lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, and feral cats. In captivity, some facilities provide catnip to give visitors an enchanting show of big cats rolling around, making funny facial expressions and generally being friendlier.

Many people think of catnip as “weed” for cats. While it does have hallucinogenic effects, cats remain fully aware of their environment. Big cats that respond to catnip are just happier when high on catnip. However, this does not guarantee they will not attack you if provoked.

Featured Image Credit: snd_nrdc, Pixabay