What Does Catnip Do To Cats? Every Pet Owner Needs To Know

Learning all about your little pet is really essential for both of you. You might know how to fight troubling situations like peeing in the house, but what else is it that you don’t know about cats? Offering just a pinch of catnip or a catnip-filled toy to your feline friend, and their response might be dramatic and silly! Many cat owners have already heard of catnip, but do you know how it works or why cats love it so much? Or maybe you are worried that it could be poisonous as lilies and daffodils are?

Grey Cat Enjoying Fresh Catnip Outside

Catnip, field balm, catmint, catwort! It doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that cats lose their minds over this herb, almost as much as playing with a string! This article will give you some insight into how catnip works, why cats go crazy for it, and whether there’s such a thing as a feline having too much catnip. Are you getting triggered yet?

So, what is catnip anyway?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a common perennial herb that is a member of the mint family, with over 250 species in existence. This plant is native to Europe and Asia but is also easy to grow in North America. It has light-green, feather-like foliage with lavender flowers. People use it to make tea, and its flowers are said to relieve coughs. It’s also used as a natural bug repellent in many sprays. But is this all there is about it?

This plant contains the essential oil nepetalactone, that is known to cause euphoric feelings in cats. And although some cats seem uninterested in it, many others love it! Common catnip (Nepeta cataria) and Nepeta mussinii are the 2 most readily available varieties, with the common one being the one cats seem to enjoy the most. Wanna know more? Keep on reading!

Why do cats love catnip?

When cats inhale the aromatic oils of this plant, it binds to receptors inside the cat’s nose and drives their sensory neurons crazy! These receptors are linked to their brain and affect the cat’s behaviour. They will commonly rub, sniff, lick and chew it, releasing more volatile oil and the active mood-modifying compound nepetalactone found within this plant’s leaves. It’s interesting that not only domestic cats react to catnipbig cats like tigers and lions may also enjoy it! 

Wondering if it affects all cats the same way? Or why does catnip affect some cats but not others? Signs vary between cats, but more frequently, it induces a state of calm or euphoria. The most common effects are the following:

  • 10-30% of cats show no effect at all.
  • Young kittens and senior cats show little to no effect and may even avoid it.
  • Some of them appear “intoxicated” or “in ecstasy” and drool or roll around on the floor when they come in contact with catnip. It is believed that this is a similar reaction they have when they are exposed to the “feel good” pheromones released by a female cat in heat during sexual activity.
  • Some felines become hyperactive with excessive chasing, vocalisation, and hunting behaviours.
  • Some of them may display signs of aggression.
  • Felines are usually affected by it for 5 to 10 minutes. Its effects then wear off and are not repeatable for at least 2 hours.

cat rolls on the floor holding a catnip container in her paws and flipping it over

Health benefits of catnip for cats

Catnip can make cats purr, meow, growl, roll on the ground, and even drool. But what are the actual health benefits to our furry friends?

It helps them chill out

One of the many properties of the catnip plant is offering a mild sedative effect, which, while not strong enough to affect humans, can significantly impact cats.

Feline stress is quite common amongst cats. And although people have many coping methods, like pouring a glass of wine, listening to some music, or running a hot bubble bath, cats don’t have such options. The sedative effects of catnip can help calm cats down, reducing the impact of anxiety, stress and depression.

Pardon you, kitty!

One of the unpleasant side effects of cat stress for you is your kitty’s stomach troubles. Like us, when we get anxious, and you start to feel a bit bloated, cats get that too, and the results are kind of smelly! Catnip relaxes cats’ muscles when they’re in a tense state, which can treat or prevent upset stomachs. It’ll not only make your cat feel much better, but your nose will also thank you!

Use catnip for a happy kitty

Have you ever noticed your cat being happier when they’ve got a new catnip toy? They not only enjoy the smells of the herb, but it also physically makes them feel better. Consider adding a small amount of the herb to their cat box the next time you take them for vaccinations and see if you notice any difference in their behaviour!

Black Cat laying on the floor playing with a green pickle cat toy filled with catnip

A nice long soak

Have you noticed your feline friend scratching a bit more than usual, shedding, biting its fur, or just feeling a bit uncomfortable in their skin? Of course, it’s essential to get them to the vet for a check-up, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do in the meantime to ease their discomfort.

Creating a ‘tea bath’ for your kitty can soothe skin conditions, as the plant can work wonders in an inflammatory capacity when applied topically. Wanna know how to make that relaxing tea bath? All you need to do is to run a lukewarm bath as usual and dissolve 1 tablespoon of loose catnip into a mug of boiling water. Then, add this to the bath and wait for your cat to catch a smell of the almost addictive aroma. 

Can cats overdose on catnip?

As we already mentioned, this plant can be used for its antidiarrheal properties. With this said, it is essential to prevent your cat from ingesting large amounts of catnip, as it can cause digestive upset

Too much of it may cause health problems in cats, like vomiting, diarrhoea, dizziness, or having trouble walking. It’s best to use just a little at a time. Of course, you can always discuss the correct amount for your feline with your veterinarian. Just keep in mind that fresh catnip is more potent than its dried form, so you won’t need to give your cat as much of it. We also recommend avoiding highly concentrated catnip oils due to their potency.

How to best use catnip?

Does catnip have a positive effect on your cat? Then, you can use it as a training aid or an occasional treat. Keep in mind that young kittens will likely not react to catnip until they are at least 3 months old, so don’t be disappointed. Here are some suggested uses for catnip:

  1. Rub it into your pet’s scratching post to encourage use.
  2. Place it in toys to promote exercise and active play.
  3. Sprinkle it in a new environment to encourage shy felines to be comfortable and help any cat-to-cat introductions go more smoothly.
  4. Add it to the crate or carrier to reduce anxiety and create a sedative state during your car trips.
  5. Storage is important when it comes to catnip as it can lose its potency over time. If you want it to last longer, it’s best to store it correctly. To do so, place it in an airtight container, keeping it outside of sunlight in a cool environment.

Calico cat licking catnip from lips

Where can I buy or grow catnip?

You can find this plant available in many forms:

  1. Fresh catnip, when growing your own catnip plant.
  2. Dried.
  3. Catnip bubbles or sprays.
  4. Cat toys stuffed with dried catnip.

You may purchase all these forms of catnip from pet shops, except the fresh one. But you can easily grow your own, and it is also readily available for purchase from most nurseries in the herb section. You can find it as plants or in seed form, as it is best planted in early spring. Keep in mind that catnip plants grow quite large and like sandy soil and full sun.

Are there other plants that act like catnip?

Three more other plants have effects on cats similar to catnip. These include:

  1. Silvervine (Actinidia polygama)
  2. Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)
  3. Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis)

Although none of these plants contains nepetalactone, they do have similar compounds. So if your cat is now affected by catnip, you may also try these alternatives! The more options, the better! 

Cat licks catnip from tree cat toy
Well, that’s all about catnip. Quite interesting, right? What don’t many pet owners know that you do now? That this plant can help boost your cats’ health, making them feel and look better than ever before. So, do you want a happy kitty? Go for catnip!

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