Catnip 101 for Curious Cat Lovers
Our cat sitters have all seen our cat clients go crazy for catnip, but what are we giving our furry friends? What is catnip and how does it affect Spot, Hemingway, or whomever your special kitty may be? What do you really know about this so-called “cat drug”? Here is Catnip 101 for any curious cat lovers!
1. What is catnip?
Catnip is a perennial herb called Labiatae, which is one of 250 herbs in the mint family. The ingredient in catnip creating the high is nepetalactone, an essential oil found in leaves and stems of this plant. Just as humans feel a hallucinogenic effect by ingesting LSD or marijuana, cats feel a similar effect with catnip. The same feel-good pheromones released during sexual courtship between felines are the same released when cats smell or eat the catnip plant. It was once suggested for use as an aphrodisiac for the species, but the idea was unlikely because males and females respond in the same way to the drug. Cats will sniff, chew, lick, shake their head, rub their chin, cheek and body (most likely in that order).
2. Is catnip safe?
The herb is non-threatening, non-addictive, non-toxic and safe to eat. If cats consume too much, an overdose can cause vomit or diarrhea.
3. Do all cats get high?
Only 50 to 66% of cats will inherit the gene that reacts to catnip. The gene only needs to be inherited from one parent. Any group of cats, wild or domesticated, big or small, have the same behavioral reactions. Kittens will not respond to the herb for 3 to 6 months or until they reach sexual maturity.
4. Where can you find catnip, and how do you store it?
Any local pet retailer or garden center will have access to catnip, fresh or dry. It can be homegrown, indoor or outdoor. Catnip is an invasive plant and spreads quickly, so be careful where you grow or plant in a large garden area. Catnip grows wild in temperate Asia, North America, and Europe. Also, be sure to store catnip in an airtight bag in the freezer. Catnip loses its oils and effect if not stored properly.
5. Is smelling catnip better than eating it?
When smelling catnip, cats are likely to respond with hyperactivity, playfulness and sometimes can become aggressive. When eating catnip, cats will become more mellow and calm, feeling the ecstasy of the drug. Chewing bruises the plant, which releases more oils creating a calming effect. The effect lasts a short 10 minutes and the feeling can’t be resumed for another two hours. Also, be aware male cats may become more aggressive when they first ingest the herb.
6. Does catnip affect humans?
It’s not harmful to humans. People are slightly affected by catnip (although not in a hallucinogenic way). It can be used as a mild sedative or in tea, as it has the calming properties similar to chamomile. It is a natural mosquito and pest repellent, known to be stronger than the brand “DEET” (and most likely smells better). In addition, the plant provides some protection against aphids, corn ear worms, cucumber beetles, flea beetles, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, and mice.
7. Train Your Kitty:
Are your kitties scratching up the rug or couch? Catnip can be a useful for a training aid. Rub catnip on a scratching post to draw their attention from elsewhere. Frequent use in one area may help keep him away from your furniture. You can also buy toys that are meant to put catnip inside. This is a great distraction for cats!
As a pet sitters, we have seen every reaction in the book. Hopefully this helps you better understand the plant and the effects on your kitty. Let your cat enjoy the effects of catnip and use it to your advantage!