Catnip is a wonderful treat for house cats all over the world. The material makes cats writhe around in joy. Housecats’ reactions to catnip are famous, and they have even gone viral. Cats really like the curious substance. But what about lions? Do lions enjoy catnip too? Do big cats have the same reaction to catnip as house cats? The question evokes images of lions rolling around in the savannah in blissful catnip-induced joy. But is that reality or just mythology? Truth is that catnip really works on lions and they seem to like it. Let’s learn more.

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Lions’ Reaction to Catnip

It is difficult to try and give catnip to wild lions, so the studies about lions’ reactions to catnip come from zoos and animal rescue groups. In captivity, lions react to catnip in the same way that house cats do. They enjoy being close to the catnip, they act dizzy and playful when exposed to the substance, and they get joy out of the experience.

It may sound silly at first, but catnip really does get lions to act like your very own cat at home. The mechanisms that allow cats to enjoy catnip are the same for almost every cat species meaning that lions and house cats react in nearly identical ways when exposed to the substance.

female lion rolling on the ground with open mouth
Image Credit: Isabella0208, Shutterstock

Do Other Big Cats Like Catnip?

Yes! According to similar observations, nearly all big cats enjoy the sensation of catnip. According to Big Cat Rescue, they have seen all manner of big cats react to catnip, including lynxes, bobcats, and tigers, in addition to lions and even jungle lions. Housecats are not the only type that enjoys the sultry smells of catnip. The keepers at Big Cat Rescue even treat their lions and tigers to catnip treats from time to time, like house cats.

What Is Catnip?

Catnip is a plant known as Nepeta cataria. It belongs to the Lamiaceae family, which includes things like mint and sage. Catnip has also been called catswort, catwort, and catmint in other times and places. Today, it is primarily known as catnip, thanks to the effect it has on cats. Since Nepeta cataria is related to mint and sage, it is no wonder that it has been used as a balm in human medicine for centuries. Cats likely came in contact with the plant due to their proximity to humans. People using catnip for their own purposes likely exposed cats to the plant to humorous effect.

Before the advent of modern medicine, catnip was used by humans in a variety of different ways. It was chewed to help with stomach cramps. It was brewed into tea to help with fevers. It was distilled into a tincture or a poultice to help with wounds. Today, catnip is largely grown as an ornamental plant or for treats for cats. Its medicinal effects have been overshadowed by more recent medical advancements.

catnip leaves
Image By: lwccts, Pixabay

Why Does Catnip Work?

What is it about catnip that drives cats mad? The truth is no one really knows. Scientists have studied the effects of catnip on cats but have failed to pin down an exact reason for the reaction. Cats only react to catnip for 15 to 30 minutes before the effects wear off. Your cat can’t overdose on catnip, and some cats are immune to its charms. The best guess is a reaction from Nepetalactone which is a special chemical present in catnip.

Cats smell Nepetalactone which creates an effect similar to that of powerful pheromones. The pheromone reaction runs its course, the cats feel the joy and the rush, and then it fades. The immune cats have a hereditary function that nullifies the reaction. If a cat’s parents did not react to catnip, they likely won’t either.

While the Nepetalactone theory is the leading one, the truth is that no one knows for sure why cats react the way that they do. Chalk it up to another feline mystery.

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Lions react to catnip the same way as your household pet. Even nature’s biggest cats are not immune to the powerful effects of the plant. From stray cats to beloved pets to lynxes and lions and tigers, catnip affects them all the same. It is unlikely that lions would run into concentrated amounts of catnip in the wild, but in captivity, they are treated to the plant on a regular basis just like your cat at home.

Featured Image Credit: lwccts, Pixabay