Catnip: What It Is and How It Affects Your Cat

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When you’re strolling through the cat-designated aisles of your local pet shop, you’ll no doubt see catnip offered in a variety of forms. You’ll see it packaged in flake form, sprinkled on toys, compressed, in a spray form, oil form, and even in bubble form. But what is catnip? While most cat owners know that catnip is used to have a calming effect on your kitty, we often are asked what catnip is and how it works. We figured we’d create this post to provide a guide on catnip for curious cat owners.

What is Catnip?

Catnip is the commonly-used name for the plant Nepeta Cataria, which in Latin translates to cat mint. Nepeta Cataria is native is to Europe and Asia, but is now grown all over the world. Growing between two and three feet in height, catnip plants bloom from late spring until fall. The plant is a part of the mint family and is cousins with basil and oregano.

 

The history of catnip is a bit spotty, but it is believed that the Ancient Egyptians, who were major cat enthusiasts, were the first to discover how fond cats are of catnip plants. The love of catnip is not exclusive to domesticated house cats, as larger felines such as cougars, lions, and jaguars have been found to enjoy catnip as well.

 

In addition to being used to keep cats happy, catnip was used in Europe and Asia as an ingredient for herbal medicines and for decorative and fragrance purposes. Once the Europeans brought the plant to North America, Native Americans soon began to use the plant for medicinal purposes as well.

Why Do Cats Love Catnip?

Without hitting you with too much science, cats dig catnip because it contains the organic compound nepetalactone, which is a cat attractant. What a cat likes and doesn’t like comes down to how it smells to them. Even their taste in food is based mostly on how it hits their noses. Not all cats love catnip, however.  The appeal of catnip for cats is hereditary, and about 33% of cats are unaffected by catnip. You’ll know right away whether your cat does or doesn’t enjoy catnip, as the effect is almost immediate. If your cat has the catnip-loving gene, one quick sniff of catnip and your kitty will be chewing and licking the catnip in glee.

Effects of Catnip on Cats

Smelling the scent of catnip releases pheromones in cats that trigger positive behavioral reactions. Cats react to catnip by licking it, chewing it, pawing at it, and smelling it. Soon after interacting with catnip, cats that are affected by the plant display behaviors such as drooling, drowsiness, playful energy, and purring.

Things to Know About Catnip

The degree to which a cat is affected by catnip can vary based upon the form of the catnip, the cat’s temperament, and amount of catnip your cat is exposed to. The following are a few things cat owners should know about catnip.

Catnip with Multiple Cats

While most reactions to catnip are positive, some cats may react to catnip with excessive energy or aggression. If you have multiple cats, it’s best to introduce catnip to them individually and in small doses to observe their reaction.

Growing Your Own Catnip

Catnip can be easily grown by pet owners if you would like to supply your cat with a homegrown brand of catnip. To do so, just buy some catnip seeds and get them planted after the last freeze of the season. The plants need plenty of room to grow and do better in porous soil and full sunlight. When full grown, the cuttings should be hung upside down in a dark, dry, airy space to dry. The dried leaves can then be stored in airtight containers in the fridge and served to your kitty.

Catnip Tea

Both you and your kitty can enjoy catnip! Prepared as a tea or infusion, the nepetalactone ingredient in catnip acts as a mild sedative, which can be helpful in relieving nausea, headaches, and even toothaches. Enjoy a warm cup of catnip tea at night and it might even help with insomnia. Or, fix up a lunch of tuna sandwiches and catnip tea, two things that can be enjoyed both by cat owners and their cats.

Pet Insurance for Your Kitten

If your cat has the gene that makes them drawn to catnip, there’s plenty of applications for catnip that your cat will enjoy. You can sprinkle it on their favorite toys, rub it along their cat tree or bed, spray it near their common hang out spots, or put a few flakes on their food.

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