Most pet owners have heard of catnip. If you’re a cat owner, it’s likely that you already have a catnip plant, container, or spray in your home, ready to be shared with your furry friend. But why, exactly, does your cat go crazy for catnip? Are you using catnip to its full potential?
What is Catnip?
Catnip, also known as Nepeta cataria, is a perennial herb native to Europe, Central America, the Middle East, and China. It’s part of the mint family, and contains an essential oil called nepetalactone.
When your cat plays with catnip, nepetalactone enters the nose and/or mouth, and triggers an emotional response in the brain. In other words, the oil in catnip is what makes your cat “high.”
Not all cats respond to catnip, though—it’s estimated that about 75 percent of cats will have a noticeable reaction. If you’ve tried giving catnip to a kitten and nothing happened, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s “immune” to catnip. Because the brain’s response is partially hormonal, a cat generally won’t respond to catnip until she’s about six months old.
Catnip is non-addictive and non-toxic. You don’t have to worry about the dosage, because your cat will know when she’s had enough (and we know how opinionated cats can be). If she does happen to ingest too much catnip, she may feel some minor tummy troubles at worst. Of course, if you have any concerns, it never hurts to talk to your vet.
How Do Cats React to Catnip?
Catnip can have both calming and energizing effects. This can vary depending on the individual cat, and how it’s used.
Some common responses to catnip include:
- Head shaking
- Face and body rubbing
- Rolling around
- Zoning out
Typically, cats will become more playful and energetic when they sniff catnip; when they eat it, they tend to mellow out. While it’s rare, some cats may become aggressive after playing with catnip, so it’s a good idea to watch for any signs that catnip isn’t compatible with your kitty.
Catnip effects are short and sweet, generally lasting between 10-15 minutes. After the “high” wears off, it can take about two hours before your feline friend responds to catnip again.
How to Give Your Cat Catnip
There are a few different options when it comes to giving catnip to your cat.
- Buying (or making) toys and puzzles filled with catnip.
- Sprinkling dried catnip on toys, cat trees/beds, or other cat-friendly areas of your home.
- Spritzing some catnip spray onto areas that need a refresh.
- Growing fresh catnip—you can do this indoors as long as you have a sunny window.
Avoid mixing catnip with food, as eating too much could lead to an upset stomach. In general, moderation is key when it comes to catnip. Plus, you don’t want the novelty to wear off. With that in mind, it’s important to be strategic about how you use catnip, especially if you’re using it as a training aid.
Benefits of Catnip
While catnip can be used every so often as a fun treat, it’s also great for training your kitty. For example, if you want her to stop scratching your furniture, sprinkle or spray some catnip onto her scratching post to encourage her to use that instead.
If your cat is too curious about the food you’re prepping for dinner or won’t stop trying to make an appearance in your video calls, put some catnip in another spot in the house to distract her from distracting you.
You can also create DIY puzzles or toys to promote mental stimulation and exercise. It can be as simple as putting some catnip in a sock and tying the end into a knot, or sprinkling some catnip into an empty toilet paper roll and folding the ends closed.
Catnip can also be used to make new beds or toys more appealing for a cat who’s reluctant to try new things. It can also help anxious cats feel more at ease when placed in a carrier or crate during travel or vet visits, or when unfamiliar guests are visiting.
If you have a catnip plant in your home, it may also keep your cat from messing with your other plants. No promises, though!
Because the potency of catnip decreases over time, keep your catnip smelling strong and fresh by storing it in an airtight container in the freezer.