It is a classic picture: a cat grabs their toy and wrestles for a minute. They hold it up to their face, lightly mouthing it while kicking at the other end with their back feet.
This play continues for a few minutes, and when they are done, they flop over onto their back. Their eyes glaze over.
It is clear they have been playing with catnip. But what is catnip, and is it good for cats?
This article will explore catnip’s health implications on cats, as well as the feline preoccupation with the toys, powders, and sprays that provide entertainment and enrichment.
What Is Catnip?
Dr. Coates of Pet MD notes that catnip’s scientific name is Nepeta cataria. It is a member of the mint family and tends to grow up to three feet high if left unattended.
The stems and leaves of catnip contain a compound called nepetalactone that presents like feline pheromones.
This compound is what attracts cats to the plant, and it is released whenever the cat chews on stems or bruised leaves.
Cats to sniff, chew and consume catnip, and it’s euphoric high–said to be comparative to that of LSD or marijuana–lasts about 10 minutes before the indulgent feline comes back to their senses.
The chosen administration route determines the cat’s reaction to the plant. When eaten, they appear sedated, but when sniffed, they behave in a hyperactive manner, flopping their bodies around the toy until the catnip’s effects have worn off.
Check out this video for an example of the different reactions to catnip.
Is Catnip Safe?
Yes, catnip is safe for feline consumption. However, the amount given should be monitored. If cats eat too much, it can cause digestive upset, vomiting, and diarrhea.
If this happens, discontinue its use until symptoms subside. When reintroducing catnip, be sure to either monitor the amount of fresh catnip given or stick to other forms, like stuffed toys or sprays.
Do All Cats Like Catnip?
Dr. Coates of Pet MD estimates that 50% of cats enjoy catnip. If a cat is introduced at a young age and does not seem to take to it, try again when they are a little older.
Kittens do not respond to nepetalactone in the same frenzied way an adult cat does.
Cats can become immune to nepetalactone’s properties. For this reason, catnip should not always be offered. To prevent a loss of interest, only offer catnip, in any form, once every few weeks.
How Do You Grow Catnip?
Catnip can be purchased commercially or grown at home. Growing it at home has two major advantages.
First, it is cheaper than continually restocking your commercial catnip supply. Second, it ensures that the catnip your cat is consuming is safely and organically grown.
According to Bonnie Plants, catnip can be grown in an outdoor garden or in containers. When planting outside, make sure not to spread the seeds until after the last frost of the season. Plants should be 18 to 24 inches apart.
Plant catnip in an area of the garden that is not occupied by other plants. This is because outdoor cats can be hard on catnip. If they begin to roll around in it, they may smash the delicate leaves of other plants.
While the upper stem and leaves of catnip can handle a little rough play, the root should stay intact if continued growth is desired.
Place a chicken wire guard over the plant and secure the sides into the dirt so it cannot be removed.
Allow the upper stem to poke out of it to appease the curious neighborhood felines while saving the roots for further growth.
When Do You Harvest Catnip?
Mary Ellen Ellis suggests that catnip is ready to be picked when the plant starts to flower. This is usually around the middle of summer.
Leaves should be picked after the dew has fallen off to prevent mold growth, and the entire stem should be cut to promote quick regrowth; this process can be repeated once more at the end of summer.
After harvesting, catnip can be given directly to cats as a fresh treat. It can also be dried by placing the pickings on a screen and allowing it undisturbed time at room temperature.
Once dried, place it in a tightly closed jar for later use by your feline friend.
How Do You Use Catnip For Enrichment Activities?
Catnip is not only a fun toy for cats–it can be used in several enrichment activities that will help expand your feline’s world and keep them occupied during moments of boredom.
According to Chirpy Cats, suggests the following activities to lighten the mood, encourage learning and exercise, and even help improve health.
Catnip can be used to help train a cat who scratches inappropriately. Line a cardboard scratcher with dried catnip, or use the spray form to drench a scratching post.
The cat will be attracted to the catnip and discover that their natural urge to scratch is just as relieved when they scratch appropriate toys instead of your wooden furniture.
Getting Lazy Cats Moving
Do you have a lazy cat, or a cat who should be encouraged to exercise in order to lose weight? Toss a stuffed toy filled with catnip their way.
If their reaction is toward the hyperactive end of the spectrum, they will be shedding pounds in no time!
Perk Up That Personality
Cats grieve the loss of their feline friends as much as humans do. To help your grieving buddy get back on track, offer them some fresh catnip to bring them out of their shell.
Introductory Peace Offering
Cat introductions do not always go smoothly. To relieve the tension, sprinkle dried catnip around the introduction area or use sprayable catnip mists to distribute the compound through the air.
While it may not make them fast friends, it will certainly quell any negative feelings that either party may have.
Catnip is not intended to be an appetite stimulant, but in some cats with chronic conditions who do not respond to conventional medical treatment, it shifts their mood enough that they are encouraged to eat.
This is especially helpful in cats with terminal conditions whose organs cannot correctly process conventional medication.
While catnip is in no way a cure for what ails them, it at least allows a sick cat more time to enjoy their owner’s company.
What Kind of Catnip Toys Are Available?
There are plenty of catnip toys available for purchase. For those who grow and dry their own catnip but prefer to use it in stuffed toys, the SmartyKat Rat Pack is available.
This toy opens on the underside so dried catnip can be inserted. It is sealed with heavy velcro that prevents leakage despite rough play and retails for under $10.
Catit Style Scratchers can be lined with dried catnip to start a hyperactive scratching frenzy.
Another quality toy is the WWVVPet Electronic Ball. This ball not only contains catnip; it also has a stuffed mouth, bell, and flashing lights that will give your feline something to do in their spare time.
The Kitty Kicker is the most commonly used toy for catnip. Kickers are up to 15 inches long, giving your cat the opportunity to both bite and kick it with their back legs at the same time.
Kickers come in refillable versions so the catnip can be refreshed from time to time.
Catnip is a plant that is easily grown and harvested and will bring joy and enrichment to your favorite feline.
While it causes either sedation or hyperactivity in cats who enjoy it, it is a perfectly safe way for them to be entertained.
Plant your own patch of catnip indoors or outdoors to give your cat a lifetime of fun experiences.