What is Catnip? And will it work on your cat?!
Catnip is a perennial herb (a plant that lives for more than two years) and is derived from the mint family. Common Catnip (Nepeta cataria) and Catmint (Nepeta
While catnip species contain multiple aromatic oils, the active organic compound that is responsible for the stimulating effects we see on cats is called nepetalactone. This essential oil can turn even the laziest couch potato into a crazy furball (if the cat in question happens to have inherited the ‘sensitivity’ gene to its effects). This trait won’t usually emerge until a cat is approximately six months old.
WHY DO CATS LOVE IT?
Researchers suspect that catnip targets the ‘happy’ receptors in the brain. It is believed that cats display similar reactions when they are exposed to the ‘feel good’ pheromones released during sexual courtship or activity.
Catnip usually induces a state of euphoria or calm. The response can vary between cats, however, the most common effects are:
- Sniffing (sometimes with an open mouth)
- Flipping, rubbing and rolling
- Salivation, licking and chewing
- Chasing or hunting behaviours
- Eventually zoning out
Usually, the effects last about 5-10 minutes, after which most cats lose interest. It may take as long as two hours to ‘reset’ and become susceptible to catnip again.
Cats are unlikely to overdose on catnip, but they can get sick if they eat too much (just the same as if they eat a lot of grass).
HOW TO USE CATNIP
If catnip has a positive effect on your cat, you can use it as a training aid or an occasional treat. Some suggested uses for catnip are the following:
- Rub catnip into your cat’s scratching post to encourage usage.
- Place catnip inside toys to promote active play and exercise.
- Sprinkle catnip in a new environment to encourage shy cats to be comfortable and help cat-to-cat introductions go smoothly.
- Use catnip in the carrier or crate to reduce anxiety and create a relaxing state during car trips.
Catnip is not harmful or addictive for your cat however it is possible that overuse may lead to a decreased response in the future – so it is best used occasionally.
WHERE CAN I BUY CATNIP?
You can purchase dried catnip from pet supply stores, and some premium pet toys will come with it already stuffed inside. Catnip may also be available in a spray form.
Catnip is easy to grow and readily available for purchase from most plant nurseries in the herb section. It is available as seedling plants or in seed form, as is best planted in early spring. The plants grow quite large and prefer sandy soil and full sun.
WHAT IF MY CAT DOESN’T REACT AT ALL?
10-30% of cats show no effect when exposed to catnip, however, a recent study has demonstrated three other plants similar to catnip that do produce similar effects.
- Silvervine (Actinidia polygama)
- Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)
- Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis)
KEEP IT FRESH
Catnip (especially the dried variety) can lose its potency over time, so store it in the freezer in an airtight container for maximum effect.
GREATER SPRINGFIELD VETERINARY
Under the leadership of Dr Jeannet Kessels, we have been caring for pets in the Greater Springfield area since 2006.
We are one dedicated team working across two easy-to-access locations.
We are here for you 7am-10pm, 7 days a week.
Emergencies are seen at our Augustine Heights Hospital.