As A Kitty Treat, How Does Catnip Affect Cats?

Do you give catnip to your kitties regularly? Perhaps you grow your own for them. If they feel the effects of this weed, they can make you laugh with their antics. So, do you understand their reaction? How does catnip affect cats?

What Is Catnip?

Color drawing of a catnip plant

Well, it’s a plant, with the scientific name of Nepeta cataria. It belongs to the mint family. The plant is a cousin to basil and oregano. Originally from Europe and Asia, the plant has a long association with cats. In fact, its Latin name of cataria means “of a cat.”

It has many common names: catnip, catmint, catwort, field balm. It does not affect just your household kitty, but can also cause reactions in larger cats, such as lions and panthers. Its chemical compound, nepetalactone, appears in less than 0.5% of the plant, but that’s enough for kitty.

Many who have studied this effect believe that this chemical acts as an attractant to the feline, and will trigger the response.

How Does Catnip Affect Kitty?

Your cat smells the catnip, and will rub, kick, roll in it, or chew it to help release the active chemical. Then, their extra scent organ, the vomeronasal gland, located on the roof of kitty’s mouth, will allow scents that are collected in nose and mouth to reach the brain.

Cat in large tub of catnip

As catnip mimics feline sex hormones, cats on a catnip “high” often display behaviors similar to a female cat in heat. It doesn’t matter whether the cat is male or female — the cat will react. Behaviors can include signs of affection, relaxation, playfulness, or even aggression.

A positive experience with catnip can help reduce kitty anxiety or even relieve pain. Sometimes a vet will recommend using it to help with separation anxiety.

Though the reaction proves intense, it does not last long. Usually this reaction will only last about 10 minutes for most cats. Once the initial reaction has passed, it will take about two hours before kitty will react again to the herb.

Will All Cats React To Catnip?

You may find it interesting that a cat’s response to catnip becomes a dominant trait genetically. Not all cats will respond…studies by veterinarians show that about 60% of cats will display a behavioral reaction.

Cats sniffing catnip plant in pot

A large cat, such as a lion or jaguar, can have a catnip sensitivity and may display a prolonged reaction to this kitty comforter. Other large cats, such as cougars and tigers, will show only minimal response.

You need to limit catnip to a small dose at a time. It will take a very small amount to create the cute reactions, and, in addition, you may find it less effective on kitty if used too often. Also, if your cat has been sick, or had an injury or surgery, wait until kitty fully recovers.

Because cats can become hyperactive under the influence of the plant, it could impede recovery.

Can You Give Catnip To Kittens?

Though catnip does not harm kittens, most of them will not react to catnip until they reach six months to one year of age. Because the herb influences the opioidergic system, the kitten may show no response because the brain hasn’t fully developed.

Until maturity, the kitten does not have the critical receptors that will come with sexual maturity. The cat’s sensitivity to the plant will slowly increase over the years.

Is It Safe To Give To Cats?

Catnip is non-toxic, even when kitty eats it. Your kitty will not become addicted and no evidence has been found of long-term effects from its use.

However, you should avoid certain situations. Don’t let your cat drink catnip-infused tinctures, sprays, or solutions unless they have a “safe for feline consumption” label. Sometimes these products have the purpose of providing scent to toys or bedding. These may contain alcohol or other ingredients unsafe for kitty.

Catnip mice toys

Don’t offer catnip toys containing strings or other parts that the cat might eat. These could become dangerous digestive obstructions. Also, if your cat tends toward aggression, caution must be used, as lowered inhibition caused by the catnip could lead to an increase in aggressive behavior.

In other cases, ingesting the plant might help the digestive tract. However, though cats will usually self-limit so they don’t overdose, too much of the herb could cause vomiting, diarrhea, or dizziness.

As fresh catnip has more potency than dried, don’t give your cat as much of it. Also, avoid highly concentrated catnip oils because of their potency.

What Forms Of Catnip Are Available?

Cat with catnip flower

You have a choice of several forms of catnip. Try growing your own plants, and give your kitty fresh catnip. You can, of course, procure it dried, in catnip sprays or bubbles, or in toys stuffed with the herb.

If you have the spray, you can use it on your cat’s favorite toy, cat tree, or cat scratcher. You can also use dried catnip to rub on these items, or roll a toy in it.

Do remember that you want to give it in small doses. It doesn’t take much to produce an effect. And, if you give it too often, it can become less effective.

How My Kitties Have Reacted

Most of my cats have enjoyed catnip. Sometimes their behavior becomes very amusing. For example, on Spruce Island, my big tom, Sam, really liked his catnip. I had a round pan, just the right size for baking one layer of a round cake, and I’d put catnip in there for Sam.

Catnip heaven for a visiting cat

That 15-pound cat would try his best to roll in that small round pan. He just didn’t fit, but he’d wriggle and contort and manage to get most of the catnip embedded in his fur, where he could then lick it off and enjoy a second catnip “high.” So funny to watch!

In Kodiak, Uptight Cat and Loose Cat had two different approaches to catnip. I grew pots of the herb for them, but could not leave the plant out where easily accessible unless I wanted Uptight Cat to have some. Give him the potted plant and he’d eat it to the ground.

Loose Cat, on the other hand, would eat two leaves off the plant and then settle into the “kitty meatloaf” position. Here, he would assume a “catatonic state” and stare into space for a long time, eventually falling asleep.

A Visit To Catnip Heaven

All in all, whoever discovered the astonishing effects of catnip on a kitty needs to receive our accolades. This plant gives a kitty so much pleasure, and you as well, when you watch his antics.

You, too, can benefit from a tea from this plant, as it has a calming effect. Use it as a mosquito repellant as well.

Reward your kitty with a bit of special pleasure by giving him/her some catnip to enjoy.

References I used for this post:

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