Most who have or work with cats are all too familiar with catnip and how much their feline friends seem to enjoy it. Some may have lingering questions though, especially if their own kitties seem to be unphased by it: What is it about catnip that some kitties find a-meow-zing? Why do some gain energy after they consume it, while others prefer a good cat nap? Why do some throw hissy fits just to get a sniff, while others aren’t phased in the slightest? We’ll answer these questions and more, to nip all the myths in the bud.
Let’s start with the basics. Catnip is a leafy green herb in the mint family. Pretty interesting right? Classified as a perennial plant, it’s considered to be durable, low maintenance, and can be grown year round. It also goes by several names: Nepeta cataria, catswort, catmint, and catnip are one and the same. Did you know that catnip isn’t only for cats? It has been grown in medicinal gardens for hundreds of years due to the relaxing effect it produces in humans. This herb is similar to chamomile when made into tea!
Catnip produces an oil called nepetalactone. The oil can be found in the microscopic bulbs covering the plant leaves, stems, and seed pods, and is what your cat gravitates toward if equipped with the inherited genes that are sensitive to it.
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As alluded to above, catnip’s effect all depends on your cat and his/her genetic makeup. Yes, you read that right: reactions are hereditary! An estimated 50-70% of cats have genetically inherited responses to nepetalactone. For those cats, the oil produces a chemical reaction as soon as the smell is detected. Particles latch onto what are known as sensory neuron receptors in their nasal cavity, then activate brain areas that regulate behavior and emotional responses. At that point, most kitties will do what they can to get as much oil as possible. Whether biting, chewing, rubbing, rolling, scratching, or even kicking at it, their main intention is to use the catnip to the fullest.
Catnip effects are short-lived. They wear off within 15 minutes and tend to produce more euphoric behavior during that window of time, but the results are dependent on variables such as the amount used and how it’s been consumed. Some respond with excess playful energy, whereas others tend to feel relaxed and extra sleepy. Male cats may be more aggressive with it, so experts suggest scaling back or avoiding catnip altogether if it makes your cat act out in negative ways.
So what about the other cats in the equation, the 30-50% that reportedly don’t react at all? If your cat won’t play with their catnip toys, doesn’t get the zoomies, or go completely zen? It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong, or the catnip you got is defective. Chances are your fur baby just didn’t inherit the trait from their parents. Fortunately, there are still tons of ways to give them rewards or engage them in play.
Technically speaking, a kitten won’t have any adverse effects if they’re given catnip. According to experts, however, most aren’t developed enough to display reactions until 3-6 months old. Due to this reason, it’s strongly suggested to wait until they’re older. It’s the easiest way to be sure if your cat does / doesn’t benefit from all that catnip has to offer. Otherwise, you may be prematurely nixing a product that has the potential to be a purr-fect treat.
Catnip is not only safe to ingest, but comes in several forms specifically designed for consumption. While commonly used inside toys or cat bedding, it also comes in powdered forms that can be sprinkled onto food, or even on the ground. Some brands of cat treats (such as my cat’s favorite Party Mix Yums) have naturally infused catnip flavor options, too.
While catnip is completely safe, large quantities may cause your kitty mild stomach issues, sometimes resulting in vomiting and or diarrhea. Yet experts say these symptoms aren’t lethal or results of catnip poisoning; more so of overindulgence. Unless your cat specifically suffers from seizures or has a complex medical condition, they should be able to enjoy it without any harmful effects. If they do have health issues, check with your vet before offering it to your furry friend.
If your cat is healthy, here are some more useful tidbits to know about giving them catmint: First, cats can’t continually stay high when using it. They go through a refractory period once the initial effects wear off. This means they typically won’t have another reaction for 1-2 hours, even if continuing to use or interact with it. Furthermore, they can’t become addicted to the product, nor do they experience a withdrawal period. Just monitor how much they eat in one sitting, and all should be okay.
This may surprise some readers, but cats aren’t considered nocturnal (most active at night). It’s a longstanding myth, but a myth, nonetheless. Instead, they’re considered crepuscular: equally active at dawn and at dusk. Of course, the extent of their daily activity varies from kitty to kitty. If your cat gets stir-crazy at bedtime, there are many pet hacks to help you figure out the best way to cohabitate without sacrificing your sleep.
One tip to keep in mind before giving your cat any product containing nepetalactone is to monitor how catnip specifically alters their mood. If it gives them extra energy, avoid it when it’s close to bedtime. If it tends to relax them, however? A cuddle toy or nighttime snack with a little catnip may be the key that allows you to get yourself some rest as well.
According to directors at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, both fresh and packaged (dried) catnip is just as safe for dogs as it is for cats. If they eat too much of it, they might get an upset stomach. But similar to cats who may get sick from excessive consumption, the effects aren’t long lasting or lethal. Furthermore, dogs won’t be nearly as tempted to wolf catnip down, since nepetalactone doesn’t produce the same chemical reaction that affects their feline friends.
The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!
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