What is Catnip?
If you’ve ever given your cat catnip, you know how funny it is to see their antics! But have you ever paused to wonder if it’s safe for your cat or what it might be doing to your cat? In this article, we’ll explore catnip and the ways in which it can affect your cat.
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What is Catnip?
Nepeta cataria is the scientific name for catnip, which is also called catmint. It is a plant in the mint family and has been used in naturopathic medicine for humans for decades. Naturopathic uses include using the herb as an antispasmodic and sedative in homeopathic preparations and using it to reduce swelling in soft tissue injuries. Most famously, however, catnip is known for its behavior altering effect on cats.
How Does Catnip Work?
Catnip is supplied as a leaf or as an oil. It exerts its effect on cats through their sense of smell. The olfactory nerve, which is responsible for the sensation of smell, appears to be the pathway for the effects on the central nervous system1.
Does Catnip Work on All Cats?
Catnip appears to give a hallucinogenic or euphoric reaction to the majority of cats. However, not all cats seem to be affected by it and do not appear to react to it. Studies show about two third of cats will respond to catnip by rolling, facial rubbing, sniffing, licking, and chewing. The effect seems to last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, after which many cats choose to nap.
Interestingly, the ability to react to catnip has a known genetic component, mother cats with a positive response to it are more likely to have kittens that feel the effects of catnip. The ability to react to catnip is controlled by a gene passed down from parent to child.
Is Catnip Safe for Cats?
While it is entertaining to watch your cat react to catnip, it is reassuring to know that it is perfectly safe and non-addictive. In fact, there has been significant research to suggest that catnip can be a valuable tool for environmental enrichment for shelter cats, or strictly indoor cats.
Cats in shelter situations that were given catnip were more likely to exhibit play behavior.
While providing catnip infused toys wasn’t a substitute for human interaction, most studies show catnip can be a valid tool for improving welfare through environmental enrichment. It is important to note that this was only seen in the two thirds of cats with a positive response to catnip.
How to Use Catnip
If you have an indoor only cat, hopefully you are already putting forth effort to enrich your cat’s life with toys, climbing structures, and lots of human affection. However, adding catnip infused toys into your cat’s daily routine could help encourage more positive behaviors and more play.
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