Everything you need to know about catnip

Even if you haven’t had a cat before, you will likely have heard of catnip. Despite being a renowned plant, a lot of pet owners don’t know much about catnip. In this article, we aim to remedy this and provide our readers with everything they need to know about catnip.

What is it?

Catnip is the common name for the herbaceous plant Nepeta cataria which is a member of the mint family. Catnip grows throughout the US and Europe and has small white or purple flowers and heart-shaped green/grey leaves.

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How does it work?

The oils, found predominantly in the leaves of the plant, are what causes a cat’s reaction. The oil produces its effect when its scent is inhaled by the cat; any chewing of the leaves serves only to release more oils. The catnip essentially triggers chemicals in the feline brain which lead to the typical euphoric response.

Not all cats respond the same to catnip. Around 60% behave in the typical playful, jubilant manner. The remaining percentage can expect either a sedative effect, aggressive effect or no effect at all.

Is it safe?

Catnip is merely a natural plant and therefore, its effects are generally harmless. Some cats will respond differently to the substance and it can cause aggressive behaviour. In these cases you may decide not to give your cat anymore.

If the plant is naturally occurring outdoors, you needn’t worry about overindulgence either. Cats will know when they have had their fill and should leave it alone on their own.

The only instance when you should avoid giving your cat catnip is if they are pregnant.

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Effects and use

Catnip usually results in felines becoming more spirited, playful and animated. You may also notice your kitty rolling, stretching and rubbing against objects more. However, it isn’t uncommon for the effect to be a sedative one which can result in sleepiness and drooling. The effects of catnip usually wear off after around 15 minutes.

Interestingly, catnip doesn’t tend to have an effect on young kittens. In fact, until they are around 6-9 months old, many people find their new kittens will actively avoid catnip.

If an owner buys catnip for their cat, it’s usually for the euphoric effects. You can find many toys in pet shops or online that contain catnip that you can use to encourage your kitty to play and exercise for a while. You should try not to overuse catnip though, or your cat could become desensitised to it. Try to store catnip toys or the herb itself in airtight containers to keep them away from sensitive noses between uses.

For dogs?

The herb is known as catnip for a reason: its most well-known effects are found in cats alone. House cats or big cats – such as lions, leopards and lynx – display the euphoric effects. In dogs, however, the effect of catnip, if any, tends to be a sedative one. Some owners give it to their dogs to sniff to calm them down – for example, before a car journey or after a trip to the vets.

One of the most beneficial side effects of catnip is that it acts as a good mosquito repellent. This is probably the most useful effect of the plant for animals other than felines.

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