It is no secret that most cats love catnip! Many pet parents love to treat their feline friends and see them rolling head-over-tail in kitty bliss. If you have ever been shopping for your furry friend, it is hard to avoid catnip stuffed toys, treats, plants, and supplements – but why do they like catnip so much? Is it safe? And how much catnip is too much? Cats cannot overdose on catnip, and thus it is considered safe for them.
What Is Catnip?
Catnip also goes by the name of catmint, catwort, or field balm. Felines’ love for it isn’t limited to our domesticated friends – lions, tigers, and panthers also seem to have a penchant for this herb.
Catnip is taken from the plant Nepeta Cataria, part of the mint family. The active chemical in the plant is called nepetalactone, which is found in catnip’s leaves, stems, and seeds. It is commonly bought in dried form or stuffed into toys or treats. The allure of catnip is in its volatile oil and cats are exposed to more of this oil by sniffing rather than eating catnip.
Catnip loses its potency with age and, rather like dried herbs that one might use in the kitchen, it loses its smell as it becomes less fresh. Try storing catnip in the freezer to maintain its freshness. Alternatively, catnip plants are easy to grow as a potted plant in a sunny spot such as a windowsill, giving your cat an all-year-round fresh supply!
What Effect Does Catnip Have on Cats?
Not all cats like catnip and for some, it has no effect at all. A cat’s response to catnip is thought to be genetic, with around 80% of cats responding to this herb.
Most cats respond to catnip by rolling, flipping, rubbing, and playing. Eventually, they become sleepy and zone out. Some might become hyperactive and chase toys or their human playmates. These sessions usually last around 10 minutes, after which most cats lose interest. It can take a couple of hours for cats to “reset” and become susceptible to catnip again.
Why Do Cats Like Catnip So Much?
The volatile oil in catnip sends signals to your cat’s brain once inhaled. It is thought that these act on “happy receptors” in the brain to release chemicals, or neurotransmitters, that relax your kitty and induce a playful, happy state.
The effect, however, is short-lived and wears off quickly. Young kittens don’t appear to respond to catnip in the same way as adult cats, so wait until your cat is around six months of age before trying this treat.
What Are the Advantages of Catnip for Cats?
If your cat seems to enjoy the effects of catnip it can be a great, occasional treat for your furry friend. It can help them relax and reduce anxiety, especially after stressful events such as a house full of visitors! Because catnip induces hyperactivity in some cats, it could help encourage exercise; this may be an advantage if your feline friend is carrying a few extra pounds!
The herb can also be a useful training aid. Many cats will seek out this herb as they associate it with positive effects. It can be used to attract your cat to a suitable scratching place or lure them into a new bed or sleeping place. Catnip can be a great stressbuster and provide enrichment for indoor cats.
Is it Dangerous to Give Cats Catnip?
There is no evidence to suggest that catnip is dangerous or addictive for our feline friends. They can start to get used to it, however, and the response may lessen if used too frequently.
Some cats, particularly young, lively felines can become very hyperactive after even a small exposure to this potent herb, which may result in clawing or aggressive play. If this is the case for your cat, it is best avoided or used in a lower dose.
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How Much Catnip Is Too Much?
Catnip is generally harmless, and cats cannot overdose on it. However, they can get sick from eating large amounts of catnip. This is more likely if your cat eats a fresh catnip plant or large quantities of treats containing catnip.
Given that catnip is more potent when it is inhaled via sniffing, then catnip stuffed toys or dried catnip sprinkled on the ground is probably a safer option. Eating plants and grasses is normal behavior for felines. If your cat seems overly enthusiastic to eat a fresh catnip plant you are tending to, then consider planting other cat grasses that are safe for them to eat. Eating green vegetation can be an important enrichment activity for indoor cats that aids digestion.
Featured Image Credit: Pixel Cat Photo, Shutterstock