Cats and the Catnip Herb: What It Is and How It Works
Have you ever seen a cat exposed to the catnip herb? If so, you were probably a little bit stunned over how the catnip affected the cat. In fact, the only word that can properly describe how some cats behave around this herb is “intoxicated.” There are reasons for the catnip herb being called a “drug for cats.”
But exactly what is catnip? Are there benefits to exposing your cat to it? Is it really some kind of a drug? And, if it is a drug, doesn’t that mean it’s probably dangerous.
To start off, catnip isn’t really a drug. It is an herb that has been used by cats—and humans—for thousands of years. And here are a few more catnip facts.
What Is Catnip?
The scientific name for catnip is Nepeta cataria. It is an herb that belongs to the mint family Labiatae. (Which is why catnip is also sometimes called “catmint.”) This weed-like herb was first found in the Mediterranean, but can now be found all over the place, including in the United States, Canada, and some parts of Europe.
The active ingredient in the catnip herb is Nepetalactone, an oil that is found in the leaves of the catnip plant. You can actually buy catnip in oil form, sometimes as a spray.
Now that we know what catnip is, what exactly does catnip do?
How Catnip Affects Your Cat
How catnip affects your cat depends on whether they sniff it or ingest it. When a cat smells catnip, the herb can act as a stimulant. They might start to do things like jump up and down, or run around frantically. They might also shake their heads, roll around on the floor, rub their bodies against the areas where the catnip had been, or even assume various and unusual positions that their owners have probably never seen before. For example, if your cat is exposed to catnip, don’t be shocked to find him lying on his back with his paws sticking straight up in the air, and staring up at the ceiling as if in some kind of daze.
However, when catnip is ingested, it can have a completely opposite effect. While sniffing catnip seems to stimulate cats, ingesting the herb seems to relax them. One of the most fascinating things about catnip is that a cat will almost seem to decide for themselves whether they want to be stimulated or relaxed, which determines whether they choose to eat the catnip or just sniff it.
Does Catnip Work on All Cats?
No, it doesn’t. In fact, it’s been estimated that up to 30% of all cats aren’t affected by the catnip herb at all. There is an inherited genome that seems to determine whether or not a cat will be affected by catnip. If your cat didn’t inherit this genome, catnip won’t do anything for them.
Kittens less than three or four months old are also unaffected by catnip. Also, as some cats get older, the effect catnip has on them will decrease until, eventually, they might have no reaction to it at all. Some experts believe this is because the way catnip affects a cat might be tied to their sexuality. So kittens that have yet to sexually mature, and older cats experiencing diminishing sexuality, either aren’t affected at all or are affected to a lesser degree than cats in their “sexual prime.”
However, there is a good chance that the catnip herb will have some kind of effect on your cat. And exposing them to catnip can have many benefits.
Making Your Cat More Active
As you know, cats need regular exercise in order to stay healthy and happy. But, as you probably also know, some cats are downright lazy. They would be perfectly happy to just laze around all day, only moving to go get something to eat. Or maybe follow the sun as it moves across a room. The result is often plump cats that weigh a little more than they should, and aren’t as healthy as you would like them to be.
The solution? Give catnip a try. Exposing the cat to the herb will encourage them to be more active. Even the laziest cat will start to jump around, run and play when exposed to catnip. Really, they won’t be able to help themselves. For about 15 minutes after sniffing catnip for the first time, your lazy cat will be more active than they had been in months, maybe even years.
And, best of all, they will probably like it. After the catnip has worn off, it might be a while before your cat can be affected by it again. But leave the catnip out. After the previous exposure has worn off, your cat just might go back for another whiff, just so they can experience another energy high.
Is Catnip Dangerous?
Considering the drastic effects catnip can have on a cat, you might be thinking that it must contain some kind of chemical that could be dangerous to your cat. But it doesn’t. Catnip is completely nontoxic to cats. Sniffing catnip several times in a day will not harm your feline friend. However, if your cat eats too much fresh catnip, they might experience diarrhea or vomiting. But it’s actually pretty rare for a cat to even want to eat enough catnip to reach that point, let alone do it.
Is your cat lazy and lethargic? Do you feel that they would benefit from an occasional burst of activity? If so, the catnip herb might be the solution you are looking for.