Just one whiff and they are instantly hooked, you can expect most cats to be rolling around on the ground once they have been exposed to the plant

By Lucy Powell

It’s a well known fact that most of our feline friends respond to Catnip (also known by it’s Latin name ‘Nepeta Cataria’). Many cat owners refer to the plant as ‘weed for cats’. This gives one an indication of just how strong the effects of this humble garden herb can be on our feline friends.

What is Catnip?

Although not all cats are sensitive to this plant (kittens are not susceptible to its effects, in fact they often show an aversion to it), it is thought that up to two thirds of cats will have a dramatic reaction to Catnip. Just one whiff and they are instantly hooked, you can expect most cats to be rolling around on the ground once they have been exposed to the plant or bag of dried Catnip.

They will paw at the plant itself while chewing the leaves and purplish flowers. There could also be a lot of random leaping and bounding about, do not be surprised if your “catnipped” cat also starts to chase imaginary mice or birds around the garden!

The key ingredient that affects the cats ultra sensitive sense of smell is the active chemical found in Catnip – Nepetalactone. The powerful chemical travels up to the cats sensitive nasal system where it takes effect.

“Sleepiness, anxiety, drooling and aggression are also common side effects to be expected.”

So far we know Catnip only to cause these strange reactions in felines, one possible reason is that the Nepetalactone resembles a cat pheromone. The common ‘Feline Facial Pheromone’ can be frequently found in tomcat urine, although this theory has not been tested it’s one of the strongest possibilities to date. The reaction that this chemical has is caused by the part of the cats brain that operates the five senses of touch, smell, sight, sound and taste; no surprise that the effects are so profound!

Keep an eye on that bag of dried Catnip you may have at home, many cats will happily munch through a whole bag without a second thought. This could cause kitty to become aggressive and hiss too!
Don’t worry if your cat does show signs that he or she could have been overexposed to Catnip- the effects will wear off as the drug leaves the cats system.

Is Catnip safe?

The simple answer in many cases is ‘Yes’, for most cats you can rest assured that although the effects of Catnip seem very ‘drug like’ they will wear off within two hours.

Catnip is a herb from the mint family and can be found growing wild including at the back of many gardens. It is a favourite with herbalists for it’s fragrant leaves and other medicinal uses, so it is 100% legal. Seeds can be bought from most good garden shops for those who wish to grow their own.

What is Catnip used for?

Nepetalactone is used as a feline attractant and can be found on many cat products such as toy mice and furniture. It can be bought from pet stores in spray form or as dried herbs in a bag. A little Catnip sprayed onto that old cat toy will give a new lease of life that your kitty will love!

It’s is also a great idea to spray your Catnip formula onto scratching posts at home. The scent will hopefully encourage your cat to use them when manicuring his or her claws instead of on those chair or table legs.

Some cat owners will also buy dried catnip for their feline friends as a an occasional treat. Why not encourage good cat behaviours with a bit of Catnip as a reward?

How to use Catnip

To use, simply take a pinch of dried Catnip, crush the buds or leaves with your finger tips and scatter on the floor near your cats favourite hang out spots in your home. These include near where kitty sleeps, maybe also that spot where he or she sits while watching TV with you?
Avoid putting any Catnip in your cats food, this will cause them to have an upset stomach and could cause a change in dietary and eating habits. If you can buy Catnip leaves and flowers that have already been finely ground then it’s a bonus!

It’s always good to check for any sharp stalks that could accidentally scratch your cat before you scatter the Catnip.

We do recommend that you speak to your vet before exposing your kitten or cat to any amount of Catnip, especially if there are any underlying health problems to consider.

Storing your Catnip

Like any herb, Catnip can also lose it’s potency, to help prolong it we suggest that you store your cat nip in a dark and cool place. In a fridge or freezer will lengthen the time that the catnip is kept fresh.

If this option isn’t possible then try storing it in a re-sealable container away from direct sunlight.

About the Author

Lucy Powell
Lucy Powell

Passionate about our feline friends and the bond cats can create with their owners. Lucy is a contributing pet-care writer for various magazines and is the proud owner of three specials cats - Lordy, Gatinha and Gina!