Catnip or Nepeta Cataria is a herb that belongs to the same plant
family as mint. It releases a feline attractant oil,
nepetalactone, the scent of which produces a mild euphoric effect
on cats. Cats bite the leaves of the plant to release more of
this oil. The effects last about fifteen minutes. The plant is
found all over the Middle East, Europe, Central Asia and regions
of China. It is a mid-sized green leafy plant with white flowers.
A pet store visit could yield you “raw” catnip i.e. essentially a
dried and processed version of the actual plant. It is often
found as an ingredient in cat toys or infused into sprays. The
plant’s effect on a cat can be likened to ours when introduced to
a mind-altering drug.
History of catnip
Catnip has a long history. It is thought that Ancient Egyptians
used it, as they domesticated cats. The Romans used it in
medicines. It was introduced in America sometime around the 18th
Some lions, tigers and other members of the cat family are
susceptible to the effects of catnip too. Then again, there are
some cats that don’t register the same effects. Catnip affects
different cats differently.It is mostly used as a sedative or a
training tool where catnip is given as reward to a well-behaved
cat. It can be used as an alternative for a traditional food
treat.Catnip can be used to calm down cats when hyperactive,
scared or overwhelmed.Word of caution – only use catnip in
sparing amounts as it can weaken or entirely kill your cat’s
sensitivity to the chemical.
How safe is catnip?
Catnip is quite harmless and not addictive in nature, contrary to
popular belief. However, excess usage can cause diarrhea and
vomiting, Since catnip can work as an aphrodisiac, it has the
ability to make male cats aggressive. Monitor your cat for any
change in behavior and stop giving them catnip, if this happens.
The best practice is to introduce a small amount of catnip to
your cat, see how they react and then introduce more accordingly.
How to administer catnip?
Buy a refillable toy which you can fill yourself with catnip
instead of sealed toys which use sharp stems which could injure
your pet if bitten. You may also choose to buy loose leaves. You
could choose to grow it yourself too.
Catnip only affects kittens over the age of six months. Cats use
their extraordinary sense of smell to sniff in the reactive oil
that sedates them/makes them euphoric. It can be used as a
wonderful training tool but cat owners should be careful of using
it in excess.
5 Ways to Entertain Your Cat with Catnip
Cats that enjoy catnip have lots of opportunities for feline fun
with this herb. Did you know catnip can be a great training tool
You can use catnip to change a shy cat’s attitude into
confidence. Bully cats can be mellowed a bit when under the
influence of catnip. Since today is “change a pet’s life day,” a
catnip treat could be a great pick-me-up for needy cats at your
local shelter—wouldn’t that be a marvelous way to support their
Most cats have their own idea about catnip interaction. But to
get you both started, here are 5 ways to play with catnip.
Spike the scratching post
Encourage cats to leave your furniture alone and instead target
the legal scratching post by making the post more attractive with
catnip. You can scatter the catnip herb over top of the scratch
item, purchase one already impregnated with catnip, or use catnip
spray to spike the post.
Fill a sock
Dried catnip can be messy, especially after your cat rolls all
over and it catches in their fur. To keep it contained, you can
purchase bulk catnip and put a tablespoonful inside a sock and
knot the sock. Let your cat enjoy playing with, biting and
kicking or rolling on the catnip sock. You can refresh the sock
with a new scoop of the herb as needed.
Offer catnip toys
A wide variety of commercial catnip toys are available. Find one
that your cat enjoys—catnip mice are popular—and offer them to
Loft some bubbles
Many cats enjoy chasing bubbles—yep, those same ones kids like to
blow from soap suds. You can find catnip-scented bubbles made
especially for your cat’s enjoyment.
Since catnip is an herb, you can grow the plant yourself. Catnip
grow kits are a cat favorite because the herb smells so much
better when fresh. Just be sure you situate your catnip garden
out of feline reach or the cats will eat it up and un-plant the
pots in one setting.
Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, consultant
to the pet care industry and the award winning author of 23 pet