What’s one feature that always seems to be in most cat toys and is appearing more and more in cat treats? Catnip.
Catnip toys and regular catnip has dominated the pet industry for years and although it’s been extremely popular it’s always a good idea to take a step back and question, well is it safe for my cats?
WHAT EXACTLY IS CATNIP?
In short, catnip is an herb that is closely related to mint. Although it was only native to the Mediterranean and North Africa, it has been cultivated all over North America as well as Europe.
IS CATNIP AND CATMINT THE SAME THING?
Yes, it is. Catnip is actually known under a number of pseudonyms like catmint, field balm and cat wort, though the scientific name for catnip is Nepeta Cataria.
WHY DO CATS LOVE CATNIP SO MUCH?
Well, catnip has a compound in it called nepetalactone. This is compound is extremely potent and it is believed that nepetalactone is similar to the pheromone that is associated with feline mating.
IS CATNIP A DRUG?
No, catnip is not technically classified as a drug, though it does act as a natural mood enhancer.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CAT EATS CATNIP?
Catnip reacts differently with each cat, and quite frankly not every cat will be interested or will react to it. For example, our cat Beau doesn’t react to catnip, though Kalista and Walker can’t get enough of it.
Behaviours that are common in cats who eat catnip include:
— Kitten-like behaviour/playfulness
— Affectionate or Attention Seeking
— Rolling Around
Though many cats become more active after they’ve eaten or sniffed catnip, some cats become calmer. Some cats may zone out or may become less responsive.
HOW LONG DOES CATNIP USUALLY LAST?
The effects of catnip can last between 5 to 15 minutes, again dependant on the cat.
HOW OFTEN CAN I FEED CATNIP?
Catnip can be used on a cat every few hours, although, I would recommend using it as a treat.
Although catnip is not considered toxic towards cats, if they eat too much they may begin feeling unwell. Some symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, or diarrhea.
A cat will also need a break after they have “sobered up” from the effects of catnip. This break usually lasts around an hour and a cat will no longer react to the catnip until it is over.
WHAT ARE SOME BENEFITS TO FEEDING OR GIVING YOUR CAT CATNIP?
Although catnip does not have any nutritional value for cats, it can be used as a tool to help train your cat. If your cat does not use their scratching post or bed you can sprinkle or spray some catnip onto it to help entice them.
If you have a cat who suffers from anxiety or is generally high strung you can offer them catnip to see if it will help them calm down. That being said, it is still a good idea to talk to your vet regarding treatments or other products you can use for your cat if they experience high levels of stress or anxiety. Some products you may want to talk to your vet about are vet specific stress foods, Feliway, or even soft music.
Catnip can also be used as a tool to get your cat to exercise more. If you’ve got a cat who gets the zoomies every time you give them catnip, don’t be afraid to give them catnip on a fairly regular basis. This will help ensure that your cat gets their heart rate a few times a week.
Catnip can sometimes get even the laziest cat to start playing, especially if catnip is embedded in the toys you provide them or sprayed on. So if you’ve got a lazy cat who refuses to play with teaser toys, automatic toys, laser pointers or treat dispensers, catnip toys might be the next step for you!
WHAT FORMS DOES CATNIP COME IN?
My favourite forms include the natural leaf as well as the compressed catnip. Even Beau will play with compressed catnip balls, although he is not affected by catnip.
My least favourite forms are the oil and the bubbles. Oil is extremely concentrated and quite frankly should only be used for human consumption. If catnip oil is facilitated to cats it must be extremely dilute as if left at full potency it may induce vomiting or diarrhea. Bubbles, on the other hand, are extremely dilute and quite frankly don’t get any of our cats going.
HOW OLD DOES MY CAT NEED TO BE TO USE CATNIP?
Although catnip isn’t considered toxic towards kittens, cats do not usually respond to catnip before they are 6 months old. On a related note, some geriatric cats also lose interest in catnip.
MY CAT GETS OVERLY AGGRESSIVE WHEN I GIVE THEM CATNIP, WHAT’S HAPPENING?
It is hypothesized that some cats may become aggressive because it is closely connected to the pheromone released while mating. This is primarily true of male cats, although female cats have also been known to become aggressive when catnip is facilitated.
If your cat becomes aggressive when catnip is facilitated please do not continue to try to give it to your cat. Cats will not become less aggressive over time, so it would be best to find an alternative to give your cat.
Alternatives include valerian or honeysuckle. These are also great alternatives for cats who don’t seem to be affected by catnip.
IS CATNIP ADDICTIVE?
No, catnip is not addictive so don’t expect your cat to get withdrawals or the shakes when they don’t “get their fix.”
ARE CATS THE ONLY ANIMALS WHO ARE AFFECTED BY CATNIP?
No, and they are also not the only animals who eat catnip on a regular basis. Animals such as lions, panthers and tigers have been known to eat catnip.
Something that may shock you is that catnip can be consumed by humans as well! Although catnip doesn’t get humans hyper like it does for cats, it does have a calming effect. Catnip is commonly brewed into a tea or administered as an oil (similar to CBD).
I would strongly recommend against smoking or eating cat-grade catnip as a lot of it is not fresh. Though cat-grade catnip can be used, it won’t be as effective and quite frankly may taste stale. Instead, I would recommend using oil, growing fresh catnip or finding a supplier who sells fresh catnip.
DO CATS PREFER FRESH CATNIP?
Absolutely! Cats are known to prefer fresh catnip, though fresh catnip is not a necessity. Unlike us, cats can get away with eating dried catnip. This is due to the fact that cats don’t need catnip that is as potent as humans do.
Dried catnip or catnip that can be bought in pet stores is completely safe for cats, though it would still be a good idea to follow best before dates.
Although catnip is considered safe for cats it is important that you do not overfeed your cat catnip. Unfortunately, cats do not know their limits when it comes to catnip and food and will commonly overindulge when given the opportunity.
Cats who overindulge on catnip may develop an upset stomach and commonly vomit or have diarrhea. The concern with this is dehydration which will require a visit to the vet to either flush out your cat’s system and/or administer IV fluids.
I personally recommend feeding your cat catnip a couple of times a week, though catnip toys can be left out to play as long as the cat is monitored. If your cat ever acts aggressively after catnip is administered it is wise to stop administering it to your cat. Instead, provide them with valerian or honeysuckle. This is especially important if you live in a multi-cat household.
Overall, I’m a huge fan of catnip, especially when it comes to getting our cat Kalista to play. She goes wild and gets the majority of her exercise from batting around catnip toys. We have also used catnip to help encourage Kalista to sleep in her cat tree and meowfia bed. In both cases, it really helped since Kalista tends to be iffy about new things.
Finally, it is wise that you take things slow when it comes to catnip. Slowly introduce your cat to the catnip to gauge how much your cat needs. It is also important to remember that not every cat will be affected by catnip, so don’t be shocked if your cat doesn’t react. It is estimated that 50-70% of cats are affected by catnip.
So, pet parents, I’m curious how many of your cats love catnip? What’s their favourite form of catnip? Do they have a favourite toy? Let me know in the comments below.