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Cats and Catnip: What’s The Deal?

Any cat owner that has given catnip to their cats before will know that it can cause a whole host of unusual and entertaining behaviours.

Cats go crazy for the green stuff, often trying to take it from your hands. But what is it about catnip that cats find so irresistible? In this article, we will discuss exactly that, plus lots of fun and enriching ways you can give catnip to your cat.


What Is Catnip?

Catnip is a plant from the mint family. The name 'catnip' is believed to have come from the reaction cats have to the herb. Their favourite variety is nepeta cataria. This is the variety used for commercial catnip, but there are approximately 250 known catnip species.

The catnip plant is native to Central Asia and parts of China, Southern and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It has also become naturalised in Northern Europe, New Zealand and North America.

As we know, cats have a solid reaction to catnip, and it is an ingredient called nepetalactone that causes this. Nepetalactone is an oil found in the stems and leaves of the plant and mimics cat pheromones.

When a cat sniffs catnip, it causes behavioural changes. You may see your cat licking and rubbing against the catnip or the object the catnip is in. They may even stretch out or roll on it before finally eating it. Catnip can also cause your cat to drool, spring about or have a sudden attack of the zoomies!

You can get catnip in many forms, including fresh, powdered and spray varieties. You can even make catnip sprays and toys at home.

Do Cats Eat Catnip

Yes, cats eat catnip! Eating is usually the last in the chain of behaviours your cat will perform when given catnip. This typically happens between 5 and 15 minutes after the first sniff, and they have experienced a short 'high'. Experts believe that cats are attempting to bruise the leaves or stem to release more of the essential oil by eating the catnip.

Catnip is not harmful to cats, and they cannot overdose on it. Most cats will simply refuse it once they have had enough. However, it can cause digestive issues, so it is best not to give catnip too often. Instead, it should be as a treat, perhaps once a fortnight or less frequently. Catnip is most effective when given occasionally in small amounts.

Interestingly, some cats – roughly 33% - don't show any interest in catnip. This is hereditary, meaning they need the 'catnip gene' to be triggered by catnip. There is no distinction between male or female, neutered or not or particular breeds. Kittens under the age of 8 weeks cannot yet experience the effects of this funky herb and may even try to avoid it.

Best Ways To Give Your Cat Catnip

So now we know what catnip is, how can we give it to our cats? Of course, the simplest way is the traditional powdered version sprinkled on the floor. Still, there are other ways to offer it and also increase your cat's enrichment.

Some owners give their cats catnip to encourage them to exercise or to help calm a nervous or stressed cat. Let’s take a look at the best ways to give your cat catnip.

  • Catnip pouch. You can purchase small, finely meshed bags that can be filled with catnip and then tied shut. Your cat will have lots of fun sniffing, licking, playing with and rolling on their catnip bag before trying to bite into it. Once they have finished playing, you can open the bag and sprinkle a little catnip onto the floor for them to eat.

 Catnip toys. Like the homemade catnip pouch, you can purchase catnip toys from any pet shop or online store. These will either be made of material soaked or embedded with catnip or hollow toys with catnip inside. The hollow toys can be refilled, but the solid toys will lose their effectiveness over time.

  • Catnip spray. If you have catnip toys or scratching posts, you can refresh them with a quick spritz of catnip spray. You can even make your own catnip spray by adding catnip to a pan of hot water, occasionally stirring until it boils. Then, turn the water off, let it cool for 5 minutes and strain to separate the catnip from the liquid. Finally, pour the catnip water into a spray bottle, and you're good to go!
  • Fresh catnip. Instead of using traditional catnip that is pre-shredded, you can buy fresh catnip or even grow your own. There are lots of ways to do this. For example, you can give your cat catnip leaves or trim the stems for him to chew, or you can give the leaves a quick bash to bruise the outer layer. This will release more of the nepetalactone oil. Rubbing the fresh leaves on your cats scratching posts and toys is another great way to get them active. Keep fresh catnip in a sealed container in the fridge to make it last longer.

Suppose your cat is nervous of his pet carrier. In that case, you can help to calm him by putting a small amount of catnip inside the carrier before placing your cat inside. Both catnip powder and fresh catnip would work here. No more wrestling your cat in and getting your arms all scratched up!

Growing catnip is easy. You just need a plant pot, soil and a thin top layer of mulch to prevent weeds. Then, water your catnip place regularly. Catnip is a perennial plant, which means it lives for many years, unlike other plants that bloom in spring and die in winter.

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