What Is Catnip? 

A picture of catnip leaves

If you're a cat owner, then you've probably heard of catnip before. But what is catnip exactly? And what does it do to cats? In this post, we'll take a closer look at catnip and discuss the effects that it has on cats. So if you're curious about this mysterious herb, read on!

What Is Catnip? 

Catnip is a herb that belongs to the mint family and is scientifically known as Nepeta cataria. The active component is called nepetalactone, which many house cats respond to in a variety of ways. (Interesting fact: It affects big cats like lions and tigers too.) This chemical (nepetalactone) is made by the plant in microscopic bulbs that cover its leaves, stems, and seedpods.

When these tiny bulbs break, the nepetalactone is released into the air, which is why cats gnawing on the plant to release more nepetalactone is so common. While it originated in Europe and Asia, it has now overrun the nation as a wild plant along city streets and motorways. Catnip is a grayish-green perennial with jagged heart-shaped leaves and big stems that are both covered in fuzzy hairs.

How Does It Affect Your Cat? 

A cat near some catnip

According to experts, the chemical (nepetalactone) is allegedly a feline attractant that elicits a reaction in most cats. When catnip enters your cat's nose, it binds to receptors on the sensory neurons of the nasal cavity, which activates various sections of the brain that control emotion and behavior. The effects of catnip are brief and usually last 10-15 minutes. The more your cat consumes or breathes it in, the stronger the impact.

Your cat will often walk away from it once they've had enough. For at least a couple of hours, a cat may not react to catnip again. It's worth noting that not all cats are affected by catnip; this response is passed down through genes. According to the American Chemical Society, experts state that one in three cats does not inherit the sensitivity to nepetalactone, and kittens do not develop the capacity to react to catnip until they are around 3-6 months old.

Cats' reactions to catnip vary; some become restless, others mellow. Some cats may even become aggressive when they encounter the plant. Some cat owners avoid giving their cats any catnip for this very reason.

For the many cats who seem to enjoy catnip, "this may be an example of a case of animal addiction to pleasure behavior." Male and female cats respond to catnip in a similar manner that might be considered sexual arousal in these felines. Because of these parallels, some researchers have proposed that the plant may have been a natural and effective booster of reproductive activities in its distant past.

4 Benefits Of Catnip For Cats

Even though the effects of catnip are short-lived, there are some benefits that your cat may experience. Here are five benefits of catnip for cats:

1. Catnip Encourages Playtime

Outdoor cats live in areas with a high risk of animal attacks and speeding vehicles, which means their lives are shorter than those of indoor cats. Although indoor cats may live long, pleasant lives, they aren't as physically robust as outdoor cats. If an indoor cat doesn't get the right diet and exercise, it can become listless and overweight. Offering catnip to a lazy cat may pique its interest in playing and exercising.

2. Catnip Reduces Anxiety

Many cats feel anxious when they travel in a car or visit the vet. Some owners give their cats a small amount of catnip before putting them in their carriers to help reduce their anxiety. If your cat is going through a particularly stressful event, such as a move to a new home, you may want to consider giving it catnip more often.

3. Catnip May Help With Digestion

If your cat is constipated or has an upset stomach, catnip may help. Catnip contains an essential oil called nepetalactone, which has been shown to have a calming effect on the stomach. It also contains tannins, which can help with diarrhea.

4. Catnip May Be Good For The Immune System

Catnip contains vitamins A and C, as well as other antioxidants that can help boost the immune system. If your cat is dealing with a cold or other illness, catnip may help it recover more quickly.

How To Use Catnip At Home? 

While some people like to grow catnip for their feline friend, you can also find it in cat toys, scratching posts, and beds sold at pet shops. If you want to grow your own, sow the seeds in early spring or late summer/early fall. The plant will bloom from July until frost.

Catnip is easy to take care of and does not require much attention. It's best to plant it in a spot that gets full sun. It's also important to note that catnip plants grow quite large and prefer sandy soil.

When watering, make sure not to overdo it as the plant does not like wet feet. You can fertilize it once a month with a balanced fertilizer, but it's not necessary.

And as we've mentioned before, not all cats react to catnip, so if you've never seen your cat show any interest in it, there's no need to go out of your way to get some. However, if your cat does enjoy catnip, it can be a fun way to interact with them and provide them with some stimulation. Just remember to use it in moderation.

Does Catnip Affect Other Felines?

Catnip in a white plate

Yes, the effects of catnip are not limited to house cats. Big cats such as lions and tigers can also be affected by nepetalactone. However, the reaction may be different from what is seen in domestic cats.

Lions and jaguars were "extremely sensitive" to catnip, according to an experiment conducted in the early 1970s at Zoo Knoxville in Tennessee. Some of the zoo's tigers, cougars, and bobcats responded positively to catnip, although not strongly. The two cheetahs on-site at the time showed no interest in the plant.

Other animals, on the other hand, have been known to be interested in catnip. Non-felines that have shown an interest in catnip include civets. Civets are carnivorous mammal species native to Asia and Africa that resemble cats but belong to a different family, the Viverridae.

What Other Stimulants Affect Cats?

Aside from catnip, there are a few other things that can stimulate your cat. These include:

Silver Vine (Actinidia polygama): A climbing plant native to East Asia that produces an aromatic fruit. The plant's stems and leaves contain two chemicals similar to nepetalactone, which can elicit a reaction in cats.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica):A flowering plant that is also native to East Asia. It contains nepetalactone, as well as another chemical called linalool, which can also affect cats.

Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis): A perennial herb that is native to Europe and Asia. It contains a substance called actinidine, which is similar to nepetalactone.

While these plants may have similar effects on cats as catnip, it's important to note that they have not been studied as extensively. As such, there is less information available on their safety and potential side effects. If you're considering giving any of these plants to your cat, it's best to speak to your veterinarian first.

Is Catnip Safe For Humans?

Yes, catnip is perfectly safe for humans. In fact, it has a long history of being used for its medicinal properties. Catnip tea, for example, was traditionally used to treat colds and stomach aches.

Nowadays, catnip is still sometimes used as a home remedy for digestion issues and insomnia. However, there is little scientific evidence to support these claims. If you're interested in trying catnip for its supposed health benefits, it's best to speak to your doctor first.

Why Do Some Cats Not Respond?

Studies have shown that around 30% of cats don't seem to be affected by it at all. There are a few theories as to why this is the case. It's possible that it depends on the individual cat's genetic makeup. Some experts believe that the ability to respond to catnip is inherited, meaning that if one or both of a cat's parents were affected by it, the chances of their offspring being affected are higher.

It's also possible that a cat's reaction to catnip may change over time. For example, a kitten who doesn't respond to catnip may start to show interest in it as they get older. Conversely, a cat who loves catnip as a kitten may lose interest in it as they age.

Finally, it's worth noting that how a cat reacts to catnip may also depend on how it is presented. For example, fresh catnip or naturally dried catnip may be more potent than commercially available products such as sprays or pellets. This means that a cat who doesn't respond to one form of catnip may still be affected by another.

If you're curious about whether your cat will react to catnip, the best way to find out is to give it a try and see what happens!

Conclusion

Catnip is a plant that belongs to the mint family. It contains a substance called nepetalactone, which can elicit a reaction in some cats. This reaction may manifest as playful or energetic behavior or even drowsiness. Not all cats will respond to catnip, but for those that do, it is perfectly safe. If you're interested in giving catnip to your feline friend, be sure to speak to your veterinarian first.

 

 


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