Nepeta cataria, aka catnip, provides a natural high for some cats. For felines that react to catnip, the impact is unmistakable. It sends them into a state of bliss. Thankfully, there is nothing harmful or addictive about catnip.
To use catnip, crunch the leaves of the herb into powder. This can be sprinkled on toys, food, beds, or scratching posts – either inhaled or eaten. Catnip contains nepetalactone, an essential oil that stimulates feline pleasure receptors. Catnip also comes in spray form. This contains less nepetalactone and is rarely as effective.
Ensure your cat is not allergic to catnip. If so, there are alternatives with similar effects. Equally, do not allow your cat to use catnip to excess. While it’s not toxic, too much catnip can have adverse side effects.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What is Catnip?
- 2 Why Do Cats Love Catnip?
- 3 Can I Grow Catnip at Home?
- 4 What Age Can Cats Have Catnip?
- 5 How to Prepare Catnip for Cats
- 6 Catnip Benefits for Cats
- 7 Is Catnip Good for Training?
- 8 Is Catnip Bad for Cats?
- 9 Can I Give My Cat Catnip Every Day?
What is Catnip?
Catnip is a colloquial term for nepeta cataria. This herb belongs to the mint family. Nepeta cataria grows throughout the world. It is most commonly found in China, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. It has also been introduced, and naturalized, in the USA.
Nepeta cataria survives for up to two years with appropriate care. It blooms through the summer months. Bloom commences late in spring and concluding during fall. The herb reaches sizes of up to 100cm. The petals formed by associated flowers will be pink or white.
Nepeta cataria is often called catnip – or catswort – as it attracts felines. It is not just cats that enjoy nepeta cataria, though. Ecology explains that bees frequently pollinate this herb. Equally, it is an ingredient in many herbal and medicinal teas enjoyed by humans.
Why Do Cats Love Catnip?
Catnip is sometimes referred to as a feline drug. The American Journal of Veterinary Research takes this one step further. The journal suggests catnip as a possible model for human responses to LSD or marijuana.
It should be noted, though, that catnip is different is not a narcotic. Despite appearances, a cat is not ‘high’ after consuming catnip and does not hallucinate. It remains completely aware of its surroundings. What’s more, the cat retains control of its own behavior.
One thing is certain, though – many felines go crazy for catnip. If your cat reacts to this herb, it can be considered the ultimate treat. If it’s not a drug, what does catnip do to cats?
Catnip stimulates a cat’s pleasure hormones. Animal Behavior compares this to a cat’s estrus cycle. Perhaps the best human comparison is the pleasure we receive from eating chocolate.
When a cat smells catnip, nepetalactone is released. This is an essential oil found in the stem and leaves of nepeta cataria. Nepetalactone floods your cat’s body and brain with happiness. It will often roll, meow, and relax. The effects usually last around 10 minutes.
Cats under the influence of catnip can be unsteady on their feet, so ensure safety. Equally, the cat will be in a heightened state of arousal. Don’t get too close, lest you be scratched.
My Cat is Indifferent to Catnip
BMC Veterinary Research claims that around two-thirds of cats respond to this herb. Behavioral Processes dispute this data. This journal claims that all cats react – just not visibly. Either way, it is undeniable that some cats react more prominently than others. There are many reasons for this:
- Recent exposure
- Prolonged use builds a tolerance
- Lack of smell, potentially due to respiratory infection
- Genetic immunity to impact
Be sure that your cat is not reacting to catnip, though. This herb produces different responses in cats. Some felines may just become notably more relaxed. This is known as a passive response to catnip. Examples include:
- Glazed eyes
- Lack of vocalization
- Adopting the Sphinx pose
A cat that seems indifferent to catnip may just be enjoying some quiet inner harmony. As with active responses to catnip, this reaction will pass within 10 minutes.
Can I Grow Catnip at Home?
Any pet store will sell catnip. You can save money and effort by growing your own, though. Catnip can be grown in your back yard from seeds.
Plant your seeds at the end of the winter. This gives them to start blooming in early spring, when the herb is most active. Aim to grow your catnip in an area with plenty of sunshine. Water them regularly, too. Catnip seeds need moisture.
Consider covering or shielding your catnip. This will protect it from curious cats. If a feline starts to pluck at a catnip herb before it grows, it may be irreparably damaged. Once the herb starts to grow to a foot or more, you can start cutting the leaves for use.
Are Catnip Plants Safe for Cats?
Catnip plants are not toxic to cats. They may be irresistible, though. If your cat gets curious, it may destroy your herbs before they grow. If a cat consumes too much catnip, it may experience a stomach upset.
To err on the side of caution, protect your catnip plants from cats. Place them high or fence them off. It’s always better to control access to catnip. If a feline discovers the source, it may keep returning. Also, consider that catnip plants may attract stray or feral cats.
What Age Can Cats Have Catnip?
For catnip to be effective, a cat needs a fully developed sense of smell. This means that some kittens are immune to catnip. Cats of any age can enjoy catnip. It may not affect a kitten younger than six months old, though.
A cat’s sense of smell does not diminish with age. To this end, senior cats should still enjoy catnip. In fact, it can be a great way to stimulate an older, increasingly withdrawn feline. The cat may not react as viscerally, but it will likely still enjoy the herb.
It should also be noted cats have developed an immunity to catnip. The more a cat experiences catnip, the less impact it will have. Starting cats on catnip while young may reduce the effects into adulthood. Consider holding off on introducing catnip to your pet.
How to Prepare Catnip for Cats
Catnip comes into two major forms, leaves and spray. The former is much more effective for almost all cats. This can be inhaled or consumed. The method of obtaining catnip will influence the results.
How your pet enjoys catnip influences the reaction. The traditional response to catnip – rolling, playing, and verbalizing before relaxing – comes from the scent. The smell of the nepetalactone induces this reaction.
Catnip is also safe to swallow. This will likely amend the reaction, though. The cat will become drowsy and immediately relaxed. Eating catnip bypasses the playful stage and skips straight to bliss.
How to Use a Catnip Plant
A catnip plant is the easiest, and most effective way, to offer catnip. Grow your own as we discussed or purchase the leaves from a pet store.
If you grow your own catnip, pluck the leaves and leave them to dry out. Once this process is complete, you can crumble them up. Place this powder in a plastic bag, and voila. You have catnip.
This fine powder can now be sprinkled wherever you need it. Apply it to possessions, or just let your cat eat or smell it. If you choose the latter, avoid messy or dirty floors. Your cat may eat or inhale dangerous foreign objects.
How to Use Catnip Spray
Catnip spray is every bit as simple as it sounds. Pick this product up from your local pet store. You can then turn the nozzle toward a toy, scratching post, or furniture and release catnip.
Catnip spray is convenient, but it contains limited amounts of nepetalactone. This essential oil is what provides catnip with its potency. A cat may enjoy the smell of catnip spray but will not experience all possible benefits.
As a happy medium, you could make your own catnip spray. Drop crushed catnip leaves into hot water and stir. Leave the liquid to cool and pour it into a spray bottle. This should be more effective than store-bought spray and leaves no mess behind.
Can I Put Catnip in My Cat’s Food?
You can sprinkle catnip into feline food. This may tempt a fussy cat into eating. The smell of the catnip will prove irresistible. The cat will quickly eat to enjoy the benefits of this herb.
If doing this, use a small amount of catnip. Aim for just enough to tantalize your cat’s nose. Remember, consuming catnip makes a cat sleepy. Food does the same. You want your cat to eat a full meal, though.
If the cat consumes a large amount of catnip, it will immediately relax. This will likely result in an abandoned food dish. You may find yourself woken in the night by a hungry cat. Use just enough catnip to encourage eating, offering more afterward if necessary.
Is Catnip Tea Safe for Cats?
Catnip is not the sole reserve of felines. As per Natural Products Chemistry and Research, catnip has mild sedative qualities. The herb is often applied to human teas to aid sleep and relaxation.
As long as this tea is caffeine-free, it’s safe for cats. Obviously, it needs to cool down first. Never offer a cat hot tea. You also cannot add milk or sugar.
This drink may be helpful to encourage fussy cats to hydrate. It’s better than dropping catnip in water. As much as cats will like the scent, catnip will taint the water from their perspective.
Are Catnip Toys Safe for Cats?
Catnip toys are safe and recommended. Almost any toy from a pet store will be covered in catnip. This is what encourages felines to hunt and play with them.
If your cat has lost interest in a once-treasured toy, it has likely lost its catnip scent. This is easily resolved. Place the toy in a jar and surround it with catnip leaves. Leave the toy in this vessel overnight.
In the morning, remove the toy and brush off any loose catnip. Present it to your cat. You will likely find that the toy gives your cat a new lease of life.
Catnip Benefits for Cats
Catnip is not just a recreational herb for cats. Offering catnip regularly can benefit felines, physically, and mentally. This can, in turn, offer advantages to an owner.
The main perk of catnip for cats is that it relaxes the mind. You may think that cats live an easy life, but this is not the case. Many cats are bags of nerves, constantly alert to potential threats. Cats also have enhanced senses. This creates a world of constant stimulation.
Catnip offers some welcome respite from this. Upon inhaling or consuming nepetalactone, cats enter a state of relaxation. This will only last ten minutes, but that’s long enough. Cats live in the moment, not according to the clock.
If your cat is agitated or anxious, offer catnip to help it relax. Thunderstorms or firecrackers may terrify a cat, for example. Catnip will temper these reactions. This herb is essentially a natural, feline anti-anxiety medication.
This relaxation does not only apply to a cat’s mind. It can also relax feline muscles. As per the Handbook of 200 Medicinal Plants, catnip can ease arthritis pain in cats.
The explanation for this is two-fold. Initially, the rush provided by catnip acts as a natural painkiller. It’s not a permanent solution, but it will resolve any short-term aches and pains. In addition, the relaxation of the muscles will aid a cat.
An arthritic cat will like to keep weight off its limbs. Catnip will help with this. The cat will sprawl and doze, muscles completely at ease. This will add the cat to fall into a deep sleep. This, in turn, gives the muscles and tendons and chance to recuperate and repair.
The nepetalactone in catnip will enhance your cat’s existing mood. This, in turn, means that it will enhance the senses. If you have a strong bond with your cat, this is a good thing. The cat will revert to a playful kitten.
The opportunity to play with a cat should never be denied. In addition to fun, it also provides a cat with exercise. This can be particularly helpful with older, more sedentary cats.
The energy burst will not last long. The cat will soon want to doze. It will be fun while it lasts, though.
Nepetalactone can also sharpen and hone a cat’s instincts. If your cat is a mouser, catnip can make it a more efficient hunter. If you detect rodents in your home, offer catnip and then let your pet loose. You’ll likely see impressive results.
Is Catnip Good for Training?
Catnip can be an effective training tool. If your cat enjoys catnip, it will do anything for this treat. This means that, if held back, catnip can be a powerful motivator. Cats only follow instructions if it is worth their while.
Using catnip for litter training, for example, can speed up learning. Equally, the scent of catnip can encourage a cat to use a scratching post. This will save furniture or stairs from the attentions of feline claws.
Catnip can have a pronounced effect on a cat. Do not offer it halfway through a training session. Once catnip is introduced, it will be all the cat cares about. Any fleeting desire to please an owner is forgotten. Make catnip a final reward.
Will Catnip Help Cats Get Along?
We have discussed how catnip can promote a sense of zen in cats. Equally, though, it can provoke aggression. Will catnip stop cats from fighting? As is so often the case, this depends on the cats in question.
Some cats will just doze and relax after catnip ingestion. They will lose all interest in conflict. Other cats will grow amped up and increasingly pugilistic. You’ll need to know how the felines react before using catnip to break up a fight.
Even if both cats react well, offer it to them separately. Cats are not used to sharing. If they consider each other a rival for catnip, the same conflict will arise again. Let each cat cool off alone and enjoy their catnip experience.
Will Cats Poop Near Catnip?
Cats can be taught to poop near catnip. This tactic is helpful when cats eliminate outside. Placing catnip in a litter box may confuse a cat. It may start inhaling or eating litter to gain their herbal hit.
If your cat prefers to eliminate outdoors, use catnip to attract them to a certain spot. The cat will gravitate toward the catnip. Once the herb is inhaled or ingested, the cat will react. It will likely eliminate in the area to claim it as territory.
This will not always be effective. Some cats avoid leaving any trace of their waste. They fear it will attract predators. In such a case, the cat will bury its poop. This may damage any planted catnip. It’s worth a try to avoid cat poop on your lawn, though.
Is Catnip Bad for Cats?
As discussed, catnip is largely considered a source of feline pleasure. There are things to be mindful of, though. Catnip can change a cat’s behavior. This is not always for the better.
Some cats appear to grow aggressive when offered catnip. This will be particularly prevalent in unneutered males.
The cat may growl when approached. It may also start to swipe at any passing human with claws. Equally, the cat may attack other pets without being provoked. In these instances, your cat should be avoided until the catnip wears off.
This does not mean the catnip has made your pet angry. It has heightened every one of your cat’s senses, though. If a cat is a natural hunter, this includes predatory instincts. While the cat is under the influence of catnip, everything is prey.
You’ll need to be mindful of this. Decide whether you are willing to take this risk with your cat. If you live alone, you can make this work. If you live with other animals or children, consider avoiding catnip. Your cat may inadvertently cause harm.
Imitation of the Estrus Cycle
As discussed, catnip can imitate the estrus cycle. This could be a fun thing for both the cat and the owner. The cat will roll on its back and grow more affectionate. Catnip can make even the most independent cat desire human company.
This can have a dark side. Intact tomcats will be particularly troublesome. Male cats in a state of arousal are particularly territorial. Everybody and everything will be seen as a rival. This can make male cats under the influence of catnip unpleasantly belligerent.
Also, a female that thinks she is in estrus can display frustrating behaviors. She may start to mark in the home, hoping to attract mates. Cats in heat also howl and yowl, especially at night.
Most of the time, this will not be a significant issue. Catnip will wear off after 10 minutes in most cases. Just remember, cats can achieve a lot in that timeframe. Ensure you know what you are getting into.
A cat that loves catnip may react excitedly. In many respects, this is the luck of the draw. Some cats will become completely relaxed. Others will grow a little hyperactive. In the case of the latter, watch your cat.
If your cat does react to catnip with excitement, offer it in safe locations. Never offer catnip on an elevated surface, like a bed or sofa. The cat may roll around and fall. As catnip dulls pain, the cat may hurt itself without realizing it.
Place your cat in an open space, with nothing to bump into or fall off. This is the safest way for catnip to be used. It protects cats from injuries, and your valuables from being knocked or broken.
Can I Give My Cat Catnip Every Day?
If your cat has no negative response to catnip, it can be enjoyed daily. Just because it can, though, it does not mean it should. Every cat is different. Their relationship with catnip should be considered accordingly.
Catnip can be healthy for cats that react well. It can also be a great daily addition for anxious cats. Felines with separation anxiety, for example, may become calmer in your absence with catnip. This may lead to less destructive behavior.
All the same, it’s unwise to allow a cat to grow reliant on catnip. Take our anxiety example above. If a cat will only be calmed by catnip, it loses the ability to self-soothe. This can reduce a cat’s long-term quality of life.
Watch your cat’s reaction to catnip and decide on an appropriate amount. Also, remember that catnip comes in many forms. Consider its presence in toys and climbing apparatus before offering.
Can Cats Overdose on Catnip?
‘Overdose’ is too strong a word. ‘Overindulge’ is perhaps more appropriate. A cat will not be placed in immediate physical danger by ingesting excess catnip. There can be side effects to enjoying too much of this herb, though.
The most notable is an upset stomach. Your cat may experience a minor bout of vomiting or diarrhea. It takes a lot of catnip to provoke this reaction, though. Most cats will stop consuming before reaching this point.
Catnip can also impact feline muscular coordination. As your cat’s limbs grow relaxed, excess catnip makes it unsteady on its feet. This will make the cat clumsier than usual. Do not allow a cat to run or jump until these effects pass.
Can Cats Get Addicted to Catnip?
As catnip is not a narcotic, it is not addictive. Your cat will not experience physical withdrawal if it does not utilize catnip. All the same, cats can grow belligerent if denied this herb.
Cats are creatures of routine. If you give catnip at the same time every day, your pet will soon start expecting it. Like anything pleasurable, this will quickly become the highlight of your cat’s day.
Once a routine is established, catnip is held in the same regard as food, petting, or play. Fail to prove it on time, and your cat will point out your oversight. The cat may start pacing, verbalizing, or even growing aggressive.
With this in mind, vary your offering of catnip. Do not allow your cat to expect it as standard. Keep catnip as an unpredictable treat. This way, it will also retain its impact.
Can Cats Be Allergic to Catnip?
Cats can be allergic to anything, and catnip is no exception. The first time you offer a cat catnip, watch for any reaction. This will typically be markedly different from the impact of catnip. Signs of an allergic reaction in cats include:
- Streaming eyes or nose
- Coughing or sneezing
- Red, itchy skin
- Reduction in body temperature
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
If your cat appears to be allergic, remove the catnip at once. Also, keep it away from your cat in the future. Once your pet learns where the catnip is stored, it may track it down. Cats do not always behave in ways that benefit their health.
Alternatives to Catnip
If your cat is allergic or indifferent to catnip, you may wish to consider an alternative herb. These are available. Varying the genus of flora will also have an impact on a feline.
As mentioned previously, catnip is part of the mint family. Despite this, it is advisable to avoid other mint plants. Popular examples such as peppermint and spearmint can provoke stomach upsets in cats. In severe cases, mint can even damage the kidneys.
The one alternative to this is catmint. This is often used as a catch-all term for catnip. Nepeta cataria is just one form of catmint, though. You could also consider the use of nepeta nepetella, anisomeles indica, or anisomeles malabarica.
Be careful with these herbs. If a cat is allergic to catnip, immunity to these alternatives is far from guaranteed. Offer the smallest possible dose. Better yet, use an outright alternative. Examples of this include:
- Valerian Root
- Silver Vine
- Tatarian Honeysuckle
These herbs promote a pleasurable response in a cat’s brain comparable to catnip. They will typically be safe for a cat allergic to catnip, too. If your cat remains indifferent, it is seemingly not motivated by scent. Find another way to improve your cat’s day.
The catnip herb is best used as powdered leaves. This will release the maximum amount of nepetalactone and have the greatest impact. Apply these leaves to a cat’s toys, scratching posts, food, or bed.