Do Lions and Tigers Like Catnip?

by J.D. Roth on 08 September 2010 · 10 comments

in Behavior,Play,Questions

I’ve always been fascinated by the similarities — and differences — between big animals and their domesticated counterparts. Take cats, for example. Do lions and tigers purr? (Answer: Sort of. Your neighborhood tabby purrs while inhaling and exhaling; big cats purr only when they breathe out.)

And while I’ve been reading Animals in Translation, I’ve been fascinated by the author’s continued reference to dogs as being “baby wolves” who have had their development stunted. There’s a reason, she says, that dogs and wolves seem so similar. That’s because they are similar.

Well, here’s a question I’ve always had: Do lions and tigers like catnip? While browsing YouTube the other day, I found an answer:

The folks at Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit in Florida, decided to test whether their guests liked catnip as much as a household cat. They filled bags full of the stuff and threw them in with the animals. As you can see from the video, lions and tigers do like catnip.

That cheetah is so damn cute!

(For the record, I wish I could figure out how to keep a catnip plant alive. We plant one or two every spring, and by the end of summer our cats have mauled them to death.)

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen Morrill-McClure 09 September 2010 (14) at 14:22

Cheetahs purr and pumas purr, but the other two big cats you mentioned (lions and tigers) don’t purr. In fact, some people divide cats into big and little by that trait (and a few others) so cheetahs and pumas would be considered little cats.

Enjoying the blog, keep up the good work.


Amanda 09 September 2010 (08) at 08:34

So happy you have the site back up and running!


Lindsay 09 September 2010 (10) at 10:49

Wow. Glad you linked to Big Cat rescue. I live in the Tampa Florida area and have visited Big cat Rescue a few time. They are great!


EvA 09 September 2010 (02) at 02:59

Very cute and interesting :)

On a related note, inside Richard Dawkins’ “The Greatest Show on Earth” book I found a really interesting story: Apparently, some people were breeding wild foxes to try to made their character milder. After a few generations foxes were in fact milder and more sociable, but some other features appeared along with their character. Their tails were no longer in a low position but raised, their ears were not pointing out, they were droopy and their fur was no longer grey and long, they developed a white and black spotted coat. They were in fact almost dogs! Mild character leaded also changes in physical features. Tamed foxes resembled little dogs.

I wonder if tamed wild cats would purr more then…


Greg Beebs 09 September 2010 (22) at 22:36

Hey J.D., thought you’d get a kick out of this new “Jungle Animal” video from Pomplamoose with Allee Willis…


Sara 09 September 2010 (21) at 21:37

I actually didn’t see a cheetah in this video. I saw two regular tigers, a white tiger, two pumas, a black jaguar, a regular jaguar, and possibly a type of cerivcal cat. I did not see anything that resembled a cheetah.


Sara 09 September 2010 (21) at 21:39

Correction on the pumas. They were linxes.


Northern Saint 11 November 2010 (23) at 23:01

That’s not a cheetah you fool, it’s a leopard. Enjoyed the video though. Hopefully you’ve figured out how to keep that catnip plant alive. And I’m fairly certain those were bobcats not lynxes.
Let me try this again for all of you: Siberian tiger- orange and white, leopard, bobcat or lynx, ocelot, African lion.


Jo 06 June 2011 (16) at 16:57

The only cats that could have been confused with a cheetah are the leopard, ocelot, or serval (the big eared cat just before the lion).

Really none of the cats mentioned look like cheetahs at all, ignoring the spots. The cheetah is probably the oddest, most un-catlike cat of all.

Also, yes cheetahs and pumas can purr; they are actually not big cats, they’re very large small cats. Other purring cats include bobcats, eurasian lynxes and wildcats.
Lions cannot purr at all, but tigers can purr when they exhale – although the mechanism by which they do this may differ from the domestic cat’s.


lroy 08 August 2013 (05) at 05:18

I wouldn’t recommend this for the big cats, but for the smaller versions, AFTER they’re totally stoned you can play “footsie” and scratch their stomachs. Watch out for teeth and claws. Good luck on that one!


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