Catnip has been called kitty crack and cat cocaine because of the way some cats react to its intoxicating scent or after ingesting the leaves. However, only about 50% of cats are affected by catnip, and not all cats react the same.
Catnip is a member of the mint family, and is also a distant relative of the marijuana plant. Scientists haven’t been able to figure out how or why catnip affects cats the way it does, but they have identified the part of the plant that causes the euphoric reaction. The plant contains a non-poisonous chemical called nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is an aromatic oil found in the stem and leaves of the plant. It’s the smell of the leaves rather than the taste that sets cats off. It is believed that cats eat the leaves because chewing on them releases more of the oils.
Catnip can be given to cats fresh, or in its dried form. Some cats will eat the leaves, and this is perfectly safe for most cats. However, some cats with extremely sensitive stomachs may vomit or get diarrhea after eating catnip leaves.
Reactions from cats will vary based on the strength and quality of the product. Cats who like catnip usually respond by rolling around in it, jumping around, rubbing their face in it, salivating, and purring. Typically, a catnip “high” last about ten or fifteen minutes, and aftewards, kitty will most likely be very relaxed and ready for a nap. Whether or not cats respond to catnip appears to be genetically determined. Kittens are not affected until they’re about two months old (if they fall into the category of cats that do respond). Chances are that if your kitten hasn’t reacted to catnip by the time she’s six month’s old, she falls into the non-responsive category.
For cats who respond to catnip, it can be used for training purposes. Sprinkle catnip on scratching posts to attract kitty’s attention. Sprinkle it on cat beds or mats where you want your cat to sleep. If your cat reacts by becoming relaxed and mellow after use, use it before car rides, trips to the vet, or other stressful situations.
However, some cats react to catnip with aggression. They become so stimulated by the herb that they may release their excess energy by picking fights with other cats in the household, or by attacking their humans. Unfortunately, Allegra appears to fall into this category. She recently was given a catnip banana, and while she had a ton of fun with it, after a few minutes of playing with it, she play-attacked my leg and sunk her teeth into my ankle. I put the toy away for a couple of days and then tried again, with the same results. I think we’ll be taking catnip toys off the list for her, at least for now.
Some interesting, not cat-related facts about catnip: it is ten times more effective at repelling mosqitoes than DEET; it has a sedative effect on humans and can be used to settle an upset stomach (as a tea); it can heal cuts (damp leaves applied to a fresh cut).
How does your cat respond to catnip?
Photo is of Amber on a catnip high after I gave her fresh catnip for the first time.