All About Catnip: What It Is, What It Does & How It Works

Curious About Catnip?

We’ve all seen countless online videos where our feline friends go crazy for a little nip of catnip. Lions, tigers, panthers, and the common domestic tabby just can’t seem to get enough of this fragrant herb! While, we are all familiar with the perennial herb and its effects on our cats, not many of us know exactly what it is, and the science behind why cats are exquisitely susceptible to the catnip plant.

In our latest post, we outline all you need to know about catnip – from what it is, what it does and why it makes our feline friends the perfect target for a funny cat video!

about catnip - catnip flower in metal pot

So, What Is Catnip?

Originally from Europe and Asia, Nepeta cataria, most commonly known as catnip has long been associated with cats. Characterised by its light green foliage and lavender flowers, catnip is a common herb and a member of the mint family. Traditionally, catnip has been used to make tea and medicine and is a common ingredient in natural bug spray.

How Does Catnip Work?

Nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip, can turn even the laziest cat into a feline fireball! When a cat comes into contact with fresh or dried catnip, the herb’s nepetalactone enters the cat’s nose where it binds to protein receptors. These receptors send signals to the brain that result in a change in behaviour. While this may sound concerning, catnip is considered to be nonaddictive and is completely harmless to cats.

As they smell it, they start to kick, chew, rub, and roll in it to release more oil. This further encourages them to continue to try to get more of the oils out of the plant as they keep playing with it, resulting in the common behaviour displayed by cats in the presence of catnip. This “high” typically only lasts between 15 and 20 minutes.

Veterinarians, foster homes and shelters alike use catnip to lower the stress level of cats. It is a great way to make them feel more comfortable in their environment and can help socialisation.

Does Catnip Affect All Cats?

It is typically genetics that will determine if your cat will be affected by catnip. About one cat in two inherits a sensitivity to the herb, however, this can only be determined when a kitten is between 3 and 6 months old. If your cat does not react to catnip, you can try silver vine.

Is Catnip Safe?

There is nothing in catnip that can harm your cat. It is non-toxic and non-addictive. However, it is important to monitor how much your cat eats as too much can lead to vomiting, diarrhoea, and dizziness.

As with any new food or toy, it is always best to introduce catnip slowly to see how your cat reacts. Start with a small amount and work up from there. Fresh catnip is more potent than the dried form, so you won’t need to give your cat as much of it. It is also recommended to avoid highly concentrated catnip oils due to their potency.

The Benefits Of Catnip For Your Feline Friend

While we all know that catnip leads to some amusing antics, there are a number of benefits that make this herb great for cats.

  • Catnip is a natural sedative and can be used to help soothe an anxious or stressed cat. It can also help to ease motion sickness during car rides.
  • Catnip can reduce stomach pain and bloat.
  • It’s also a great way to get your cat into a bath if they have irritated or inflamed skin. You can dissolve a tablespoon of dried catnip in hot water and add it to a lukewarm bath which should send your kitty right to the water! The scent will also stay on their coat, and penetrate through their skin and will alleviate soreness.

Catnip & Training

Cats can be difficult to train. Many are stubborn and independent creatures that don’t always respond well to traditional methods of training, especially when they are exhibiting destructive behaviours. In this way, catnip can also be used as a powerful training aid.

  • Want to keep kitty from clawing furniture? Try spraying or sprinkling catnip on a scratching post or their favourite toy. This will encourage them to use these items instead of your furniture.
  • Cats that are resistant to being handled or pick up can be slowly introduced to this process with the help of catnip. Rubbing a bit of the herb on your hands before picking up your cat will help them associate being held with something positive.
  • Similarly, if you want to introduce your cat to a new bed, sprinkle some of the herbs to make it more attractive to your feline friend.
  • It’s no secret that cats are picky about their toys and are prone to boredom. This can often end in torn furniture, bedding, curtains, and otherwise. Keep their toys fun and interesting by regularly sprinkling them with catnip.
Building A Trusting Relationship with Your Pet - small child hugging white dog while sitting on stairs

Giving Your Kitty Catnip?

Catnip is a fun and safe way to entertain your cat and provide them with a number of benefits. If you have a picky companion, it can also be a great way to entice them to try new things. Just be sure to monitor how much they are eating and always introduce new foods or toys slowly.

If your kitty is experiencing any adverse reactions or you have any concerns, be sure to consult your veterinarian.

The House Call Vet are a leading cat vet in Brisbane. We offer a range of services including vaccinations, desexing, and more. If you have any questions or concerns about your cat, give us a call today!

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