It doesn’t matter if you’re a cat person or if you think cats are little demons with claws, if there is one thing everyone knows is that catnip is the equivalent of reefer for humans. But, does anyone really know what is catnip and why cats react the way they do when they’re given it?
Today, we’re going to shed some light on the topic and help cat lovers like yourself understand why our furry feline friends absolute love catnip.
Although catnip can have your kitty acting loopier than Cheech and Chong, it isn’t a member of a Cannabaceae family like cannabis is. Catnip (it’s Latin name Nepeta cataria) is actually a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, along with other herbs that we humans like to cook with such as basil, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme.
Catnip is available in a few different forms:
Catnip plants are very easy to grow and you can grow it in a garden outside or in a pot in the house. You’ll find wherever you grow it, that may be your cat’s new favorite spot.
Usually when you give your kitty some ‘nip, it’ll be in its dried form and in some kind of toy or pouch, however it can be purchased loose too. With dried catnip, you’ll get more for your money and you need to give them a lot. You can just rub some of the catnip between your fingers to activate the oil, sprinkle it on the floor or a scratching post and let your cat go wild.
Catnip spray is when the oil is combined with water to create a strong, fragrant spray. This is a great choice if you have catnip toys that your kitty’s lost interest in. Just spritz it on the toy and it’ll gain your cat’s attention again. You can also use this to help them get adjusted to a new cat bed or scratching post.
So what is it about this plant that makes our cats go bonkers? Catnip has a chemical compound in its leaves and stems called nepetalactone. The nepetalactone is a volatile oil that binds to your cat’s nasal tissue when they sniff it. The compound sticks to the olfactory receptors in the olfactory epithelium.
With the sensory neurons stimulated, the neurons in the olfactory bulb will send signals to the brain which will change your cat’s behavior. While we can’t say for sure why this happens, many theorize that the nepetalactone mimics feline pheromones.
Once your cat smells the dried catnip, you’ll notice that they’ll start playing with the toy, they’ll lick and chew on it, they’ll rub against it, and it may even become more vocal.
The reactions cats have is often described as a “high” that is similar to how humans react when under the influence of marijuana or LSD. Should you give your cat a fresh sprig of catnip, it’ll act as a sedative. The effects can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes and then they’re return to their normal selves.
If your cat finds your stash of ‘nip while you’re away at work, it’s understandable that you may be concerned that too much of a good thing will do harm to your cat. You’ll be happy to know that catnip is completely safe and it’s a non-addictive.
Even though catnip isn’t addictive, it’s still recommended to limit your cat’s exposure so that they don’t get too used to the chemical compound. Over-exposure could result in your cat not reacting to the herb in the future.
If your cat does over-indulge, in the worst-case scenarios, your cat may have diarrhea and/or vomiting.
Although the herb is called ‘catnip,’ that doesn’t mean that it will work on all cats. The ability to respond to catnip is something that cats must inherit from their parents, otherwise they aren’t going to be able to enjoy the experience. Luckily for cat lovers around the world, 70 to 80% of cats have inherited this trait.
It’s important to note that the catnip won’t affect kittens under 6-months old. Once your kitten reaches sexual maturity, you’ll be able to test it out and see how they respond. Also, if you have an elderly cat, it’s less likely that they will respond to the catnip.
Catnip is very easy to grow, but like any other plant you’d like to grow, you need to consider a couple of things first.
Catnip can be grown in plant hardiness zones 3 to 9 (roughly from Northern Minnesota to Southern Florida). The plants do well in a spot with full sun, but they can also thrive in partial shady areas too.
They aren’t very picky about what kind of soil they’re growing in, but they prefer soil that is slightly alkaline. Just remember to have proper drainage because catnip plants don’t want their roots sitting in water.
It’s recommended that you grow catnip indoors so that pests and other cats won’t damage your plant. These plants tend to be intrusive but you can keep them relatively contained by pinching them regularly while they’re growing. This will result in a big bushy plant that your cat will adore.
You’ll want to harvest your catnip when it begins to flower. Snip off the whole plant at it’s base and then hang it upside down to dry in a dark, dry, and well ventialated area. We like hanging ours in the attic. When the plant is dried, store it in a freezer Ziplock back to preserve the oil’s potency.
Treating your cat to a little bit of catnip is perfectly fine and it’s pretty likely that your cat will absolutely love it. However, like all things, try to limit your cats exposure so that they don’t become immune to the magical compound, nepetalactone.
Does your cat like catnip or are they still catnip virgins? Leave us a comment below!