Catnip

Cat rolling in catnip; © Cvrgrl | Dreamstime.com

Catnip, aka catmint, is an herb that most cats go wild over. You can grow it in your herb garden for a plentiful supply, but don't be surprised if you find the neighborhood cats enjoying your crop.

Why Cats Love Catnip

According to Web MD, cats react to the active ingredient nepetalactone, an essential oil located in the plant's stem and leaves. When most cats sniff this essential oil, they become stimulated as the oil causes an effect that is hallucinogenic and typically lasts from five to ten minutes. However, when a cat eats catnip, the herb acts more as a sedative.

How Cats React

When cats first come across catnip, they usually have the following reaction to it:

  1. First, they sniff it.
  2. Next, they usually rub their bodies up against it, kick at it or roll in it.
  3. After that, they begin to lick it.
  4. Finally, they eat it.

Since it is the sniffing of the nepetalactone that stimulates the cats, you may wonder why they rub against it, lick it and eat it. They do this to bruise the catnip, which makes it release more of its nepetalactone. The video below shows a cat's reaction to a sock filled with dried catnip. She is obviously enthralled with it.

Safe for Cats and People

In an article written for PetMeds, Dr. Michael Dym, VMD states that, in most cases, he has found giving catnip to cats is very safe. However, there are rare instances of cats having seizures, so he encourages cat owners to always supervise their pets when they give them catnip.

So in most cases, catnip is typically harmless, both to cats and humans. In fact, it has long been used to make a tea thought to be good for colds and respiratory complaints. It is even safe enough for children. Some people put catmint greens in their salads as a savory.

Some Felines Aren't Affected

Catnip has a euphoric effect on some, but not all, cats. The characteristic of being effected by catnip seems to be hereditary, so you may have a cat that is totally indifferent to the herb.

  • Kittens under the age of eight weeks old don't respond to the nepetalactone in catnip. If you offer your new kitten a catnip toy and he spurns it, don't feel bad - he's just too young to enjoy it.
  • Senior cats become impervious to the effects as well.

The catnip-loving cat, however, will go wild for a little catnip. If you rub some of the dried herb into a scratching post, he will cheek-rub and lick the post.

Ideas for Using Catnip

  • Buy catnip toys - Many manufacturers will stuff some of the herb inside soft toys to make them attractive to cats. A cat chewing on its catnip toy is a happy cat indeed. Toys thus treated often have a very short play-life, and you may have to replace them often.
  • Buy dried catnip - You can buy loose catnip and crumble some on the ground for your cats to enjoy. They will roll in the mint, lick it off their coats, mush their faces in it and act like drunken fools. The buzz only lasts for a few minutes, and then they become saturated and indifferent to the herb for a while until their sensors reset and they can enjoy it again.
  • Make your own catnip toy - Stuff the end of an old sock with some catnip and either tie it off with a knot or sew it shut. This can become a kind of comfort-toy for your pet, and he may carry it with him from place to place and sleep with his head on it like a pillow.
  • Grow your own catmint - Grow catnip and harvest the tops of the plant when it is flowering, and tie them in bundles to dry hanging head-down. Make sure the bundles are hung well out of reach of your cat; some cats will scale any heights to get to it. So, make sure there are no handy items of furniture that the cat can use as a launching pad.
  • Store some for later -Store any unused herb in a plastic tub with a tightly fitting lid - a sealed plastic bag doesn't provide enough protection for the 'nip-hungry cat. Even in a tub, you may have to keep it in the refrigerator to keep cats from trying to bat the container open.

Share the Fun

Whether you decide to enjoy a cup of catnip tea while your furry feline enjoys the pleasures of a catnip high is a matter of personal preference. One thing is certain, giving this herb to your cat and watching as it enjoys the plant's effects will be entertaining for both of you.

Catnip