If you have a cat, chances are you given some catnip to them before. Watching them enjoy it by sniffing it, licking it, and rolling around in it is pretty amusing…but what is catnip? And why do kitties go crazy for it?
What Is Catnip?
Catnip is, very simply, a plant. Known scientifically as Nepeta cataria, it is a member of the mint family. It’s originally native to Europe and Asia but now grows wild across the country. The plant itself is grayish-green with jagged heart-shaped leaves and thick stems, and both are covered in fuzzy hairs. The active ingredient in the plant is called nepetalactone which is what cats respond to. And when I say “cats” I don’t mean just domestic cats – it also affects lions and tigers too!
The chemical produces microscopic bulbs that coat the entire plant. When the bulbs burst, they release the nepetalactone into the air.
How Does Catnip Affect My Cat?
Experts believe that nepetalactone acts as a feline attractant which triggers the response. Once your cat smells it, they may begin to chew, lick, rub, and roll in it to release the oil. When your cat inhales it, it binds to the receptors on sensory neurons that line the nasal cavity. That activates different areas of the brain that control emotion and behavior. The more your cat inhales or chews the catnip, the stronger the effect. But don’t worry, the effects are short-lived and usually last 10-15 minutes.
Some responses to the catnip include stretching, jumping, hyperactivity, or drooling and being mellow. However, not all cats are affected by catnip. The response is actually inherited. One in three cats doesn’t inherit the sensitivity to nepetalactone and kittens don’t develop the ability to react to catnip until 3-6 months of age. So if your kitty shows no interest in the green stuff, they may have just not inherited it!
Despite the crazy effects it seems to give cats, catnip is harmless and non-addictive. So if your kitty is a recreational catnip user, no need to worry about their health. Just let your cat let loose and enjoy them being a goofy kitty!
How to Use It at Home
While this fun plant is commonly used to encourage play, it can also be used to help train your cat. Sprinkling some on your cat’s scratching post to encourage scratching or inside their cat carrier to attract them to enter helps create a positive association.
There are plenty of ways to use it for playtime, too. Some cat toys come pre-stuffed with catnip, so while the cat can smell and rub their face on it, it won’t create a mess on your floor. Other toys, like the Cyclone Track Cat Toy, has a spot in the middle for you to sprinkle some catnip in. But if you want to see if how your cat reacts without having to shell out a bunch of money for new toys, go ahead and buy a small baggy of catnip at your local pet store and sprinkle some on their current favorite toys.
Does your cat react to catnip? If so, let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear any crazy kitty stories! While buying a catnip treat for your kitty, why not treat yourself to one of our Car Cuties? They won’t make you go berzerk, but it will make your car smell purrrfect!