Home / Articles  / Cats and Catnip

Cats and Catnip

Nepeta Cataria is commonly known as catnip, catswort, catwort, catmint. This name catmint or catnip has come from the fact that cats have a strong attraction and fascination for it. Valued for sedative and relaxant properties, catnip is also used in herbal teas and infusions known as tisanes that are meant for humans. Although native to some parts of Europe, Middle East and Asia, its ability to grow even in drought prone areas has made it possible to grow fairly easily in many locations all around the world.

How Does Catnip Affect Cats?

Most likely, if you let your kitty get anywhere near the plant, you’ll witness joy and excitement. Kitties will start licking and rubbing against it, demonstrating a definite reaction. Cats may show a bout of hyperactivity when exposed to catnip, making them stretch, drool and jump with joy. Some cats will run around the house or in some cases, yawn and get comfortable for a long nap; the response completely depends on the cat. This may last only for about half an hour as your cat becomes briefly immune to it. It is also noticed that some kitties sit quiet until the effect wears off completely.

Related: Cats and Cardboard Boxes

Why and How Does Catnip Work?

Nepetalactone is an organic compound found in catnip and this is what attracts cats. Once the compound reaches the animal’s nose, it has an ability to bind to the olfactory cells of a cat and send a signal to the brain. Some researchers and scientists are of the belief that the cat’s brain interprets it as cat pheromones (definition: a secreted or excreted chemical factor that triggers a social response in members of the same species) — and this causes them to go haywire. The organic compound Nepetalactone is stored in little microscopic bulbs in the coat, leaves, stems and pods of the plant, which is activated when the plant is crushed, chewed or when a cat rubs against it.

Do All Cats React to Catnip?

Interesting question. The effect of catnip varies from cat to cat. Some are immune; researchers believe that about 30% don’t have any reaction to catnip. Experts working in this field are of the belief that this is a trait that is inherited genetically within cats. So this behavioural response trigger may be passed on from and in some cases, this reaction is turned off. Note that overall, both kittens and senior cats are equally attracted to catnip.

Fun Facts: This catnip reaction is not only seen in smaller domesticated cats but also in big wild cats such as lions, tigers and other wild cats.

How Can Pet Parents Introduce Catnip to Cats?

Indoor kitties in particular, who may benefit from some extra exercise, may find play time more interesting when catnip is hidden in their favourite toys or around the bed. This way, pet parents may also be encouraging cats to interact with certain toys they may not be interested in. Some pet parents like to use catnip to encourage good behaviour in cats. Sprinkle or spray catnip is available for scratching posts to attract cats away from clawing furniture.

Since catnip usually gets a cat’s attention, use it accordingly. Most cats dislike traveling, so catnip could be used as a relaxant in vehicles to calm them and help make it a stress-free journey. In households with more than one kitty, if two cats do not get along, catnip can help reduce stress. 

Is Catnip Dangerous for Cats?

There’s no research or evidence of catnip being dangerous. Experts do say that prolonged usage may diminish its effect. Hence, occasional use is best. Just give a little bit to your kitties once in a while. 

Catnip is available in various forms — fresh catnip leaves are the best option, although dried catnip is common and catnip spray is widely sold. Use whatever variant suits you and your kitty best and watch your kitty have a blast…or not!

Share the Article