What is catnip?
The mysterious plant used to send your cat on their own kitty high. Catnip or as it is botanically known, Nepata Cataria, is a herb from the mint family that hails from Europe and Asia. Renowned for causing bizarre behaviour in cats (well even more so than usual), this leafy green can be given to your cat fresh from the garden or for those lacking a green thumb, pre-dried leaves and sprays are also available.
What happens when cats are exposed to catnip?
The behavioural effects of catnip on some cats is remarkable and easily observed. For a period of 10-20 minutes, affected cats show increased excitement and playfulness. Rolling, rubbing, sniffing, drooling and excessive vocalisation are common responses to catnip exposure.
Behind the scenes, the brain is responding to an oil called Nepatalactone which is found in the plant's leaves and stem. This oil is absorbed by tissues in the nose and it binds to receptors that stimulate sensory neurons. Nepatalactone activates the brain similarly to mating pheromones which may explain the almost sexual nature to some exhibited behaviours.
Who does catnip effect?
Approximately 20-30% of cats are not affected by catnip, and kittens under six months and elderly cats are generally indifferent to the herb. Whether a cat will react seems to run in the family; parents that are unaffected by catnip often have immune offspring.
Aside from our domestic kitties, big cats like lions, tigers and cheetahs also enjoy this pleasurable stimulant. However, when it comes to humans or dogs, the reaction is quite the opposite and its uses are more effective as a sedative.
Is catnip safe for cats?
Being responsible cat parents, we want to make sure it's safe before giving our kitty a hit of some random herb. Fortunately, in moderation, catnip is shown to be harmless in cats and does not have addictive qualities. Like any food, excessive overeating can result in some tummy upsets but most cats know their limits (certainly better than a lot of humans!) and will refrain from overdosing. Catnip can actually be quite beneficial as it encourages exercise and play while the euphoric feeling it provides can also help with cats suffering from anxiety.
Now that you know all about this intoxicating herb, will you let Mittens cut loose? A pinch of catnip is all you need to reveal the prancing, purring inner kitten within your grumpy tomcat.
Owner of a small Chihuahua army and lover of all things pets; when Jess isn't managing her pup Nacho's instagram you can find her writing about all the awesome new products on the Pet Circle website!
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