By Dr. Becker
Most people owned by cats have heard of catnip and are aware many kitties go crazy for the stuff.
Many cat lovers don't really know what catnip is, though, or why their favorite feline seems to love it so.
10 Things You Might Not Know About Catnip
- Catnip is actually a perennial herb belonging to the mint family Nepeta cataria.
The plants grow two to three feet tall and have stems with heart-shaped leaves.
The tips of the stems sprout small white, blue, pink or lavender blooms.
Catnip is native to Europe, Africa and Asia, was imported to the U.S., and now grows throughout North America.
- It's the chemical nepetalactone in catnip that triggers a response in the brains of susceptible cats.
The response seems to be a kind of euphoria, similar to how humans respond to hallucinogenic drugs.
(Fortunately, catnip is neither harmful nor addictive for felines.)
Your cat's reaction (if he has one) will depend on whether he sniffs or eats the herb.
Sniffing usually produces a stimulant effect, while ingesting catnip has a sedative effect.
In kitties sensitive to the chemical, the reaction to catnip can be really amazing to watch. They paw at it, rub against it, roll around on it, kick and slap at it. Some even dash about, meow, growl, purr, drool, and just generally go bonkers for a few minutes. And then suddenly they lose interest and wander off. A few hours later they can return to the catnip and go nuts all over again.
- Not all cats are affected by catnip. Experts estimate about 50 to 75 percent have a reaction. The sensitivity to nepetalactone seems to be inherited. Most cats in Australia are not susceptible to catnip. Very young kittens (under two or three months) and senior cats are less likely to react. Even large cats like tigers, lions and leopards can inherit sensitivity to nepetalactone.
- Catnip makes some cats aggressive rather than happily euphoric or pleasantly relaxed. If you have a multi-cat household, I recommend you introduce catnip to each cat individually to avoid any potential for fighting.
It's also a good idea not to engage with your catnipped pet until you know what to expect in terms of a response.
- Scientists have discovered nepetalactone is a very effective pest repellent against flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches and termites. In fact, it's about 10 times as effective as DEET. Unfortunately, nepetalactone loses its ability to repel bugs when applied to the skin.
- Catnip is also used by humans (but not by pregnant women, please). When prepared as a tea or infusion, the nepetalactone acts as a mild sedative, which can be helpful in relieving nausea, headaches, and even toothaches. Enjoy a warm cup of catnip tea at night and it might even help with insomnia.
Catnip in capsule form, available at health food stores, is also used to treat headaches and digestive upsets.
Catnip can also be used topically for cuts by crushing and moistening fresh catnip leaves and applying the paste to the wound. It is also used as an herb for cooking.
- Catnip is a cinch to grow from seed or a seedling, planted after the last freeze of the season. The plants need lots of room to grow and do very well in porous soil and full sunlight. When full grown, the cuttings should be hung upside down in a dark, dry, airy space to dry. The dried leaves can then be stored in airtight containers in the fridge.
- Catnip can be used to entice your kitty to use her scratching post or the expensive pet bed you purchased that she wants nothing to do with. It can also be used to help an inactive housecat get some much-needed exercise.
- Organic catnip (which I recommend) comes in a wide variety of forms including sprays, loose leaves, flowers and buds, pellets, dental chews, scratching pads, and catnip toys of every conceivable kind.
- Some cat lovers are philosophically opposed to providing their pet with a substance that produces goofy or sleepy or seemingly out-of-control behavior. Some folks feel it is exploitive to get a cat 'high' on catnip. Certainly it's a matter of personal choice whether you offer catnip to your pet, but rest assured it is neither addictive nor harmful to kitties, and is an herb that naturally grows in the wild.