Why Do Cats Love Catnip?

Ever seen your cat get high? If you’ve ever given your cat some catnip or let her play with a catnip toy, then you have probably enjoyed the amusing “drunken” antics that occurred shortly afterwards. Cats are attracted to catnip and it stimulates them, but different cats will react in slightly different ways. Most of the time, its quite funny! The good news is that its also good for your cat.

Discover the convenience of catnip spray for your cat.

There are many different types of catnip toys and products for cats, including dried ground catnip herb, cat toys filled wіth dried ground catnip, catnip bags, аnd sprays. Why, though, do cats love catnip and how does it affect them?

What is Catnip?

Catnip, sometimes called cat mint, is the common name for some 250-odd varieties of Nepeta, an genus thаt belongs tо thе mint family Lamiaceae. Not every batch of catnip smells exactly the same, but it all smells like a grassy mint.

The members of Nepeta genus are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. There are an abundance of species in the Mediterranean area.

The Nepeta cataria is also called True Catnip, as well as Catmint or Field Balm. This species is widespread in many countries, including the United States. The cultivar n. cataria ‘Citriodora’ looks identical to true catnip, but has the sent of lemon, and can be used similar to lemon balm. Other species are Nepeta grandiflora, also called Giant Catmint or Caucasus Catmint, and N. x faassenii or blue catmint (Faassen’s Nepeta or Faasen’s Catnip).

Effects оf Catnip оn Cats

Not all cats are attracted to it, and kittens don’t always like it right off the bat. For the cats that do, however, it has been estimated that they can smell as little as one part per billion in the air.

Two out of three cats аrе attracted to the herb аnd once thеу come into contact wіth it, they will react in various ways. The most common reaction is a sort of bliss combined with a relaxed and jolly seeming excitement.

Some cats will roll around and rub the catnip or catnip object. They may also purr and salivate, sniff, lick, or outright eat the leaves. They will scratch, bit, and hold catnip toys similar to how they may play with other toys, but in a much funnier and strange way. That is, as if they are high, which they are. Some cats might leap into the air, and generally act weird and kitten-like, to the delight of their owners.

The effects last a few minutes then your cat will likely take a nap or sit quietly for a while. For at least a few hours, he will not be affected by catnip in the same way.

As mentioned, though, ѕоmе cats mау nоt have аnу reaction to the herb. Normally, kittens аnd оld cats аrе don’t show any interest іn catnip, and are not affected by it. It is thought that this attraction, or lack thereof, is genetically determined. It may be that cats that are not indigenous to the native territory of the plant are not affected by it. Reportedly, Australian cats have no reaction to it.

Are Big Cats Effected by Catnip?

People often ask whether big cats like tigers and lions are affected by catnip. It is not known whether every species of cat is affected by catnip, but lions, tigers, and leopards certainly are and it is often claimed that the discovery of catnips effects was first made by lion trainers, who used it to calm down agitated lions. These big, fierce cats react much like any small house cat and enjoy the catnip just as much.

The folks at Big Cat Rescue have provided a video of a tiger (Alex), a spotted leopard (Reno), two linx cats (Natasha and Willow), a white tiger (Zabu), and a black leopard (Sabre), and some others enjoying catnip, acting just like any house cat. Joseph the lion, however, apparently is not into catnip.

See Tigers, Leopards, and Other Big Cats Reacting to Catnip

Why Does Catnip Effect Cats This Way?

Catnip is sometimes thought of as marijuana for cats. Indeed, my female cat does react like somewhat like someone smoking marijuana. She even seems a slight bit paranoid, albeit in a pleasant “I don’t really care” kind of way.”

But, is catnip like marijuana? Is it a narcotic for cats? It has been reported to be narcotic-like in the past. Researchers have even claimed it contains a hallucinogen, so that not only is your cat having a good time, but he’s seeing things, perhaps, frolicking mice, or dancing balls of yarn. It was reported the the American Journal of Veterinary Research in 1972, that the active ingredient in catnip was similar in structure to LSD.

Worry not. Catnip is not like LSD for cats, nor is it like marijuana. One study that came to the alarming conclusion that catnip was like marijuana, was due to the fact that the researchers had mistaken actual marijuana for catnip!

The actual chemical in catnip that is responsible for its effects is terpenoid called nepetalactone. Cats are thought to detect the chemical through their vomeronasal organs. Although it is not known for sure how and why this chemical affects cats the way it does, it is thought to mimic feline sex pheromones, contained in urine.

It is true that males seem to be more greatly affected, and that neutered males to not react as intensely to the herb. As well, cats of reproductive age react more strongly, explaining why kittens or very old cats do not show any effect from it.

Is Catnip Safe For Cats? Is it Addictive?

You may read that catnip is addictive and if you give it to your cat, you are just turning him or her into a junkie. It has been claimed that cats have become dependent on catnip, to the extent that they stop eating and instead seek out the herb. There is little substantiation for these reports and it is not known that catnip is physically or psychologically addictive to cats.

Some people are concerned about the physiological effects of catnip on their cats. It does speed up their heart-rate, but this is not dangerous, and no different from what happens when they run around the house a 3 AM in the morning. It has found to be safe for cats, and it has not been found to have any long-term side-effects. Since it relaxes them, and is pleasant for them, it is probably, in a way, good for them, as anything that reduces stress is good for a cat.

However, this does not mean that more is better. It is probably not a good idea to give your cat catnip every day, or multiple times per day. And, if you do, your cat will build up a tolerance to it and will cease to be affected by it, for a while.

Sometimes, as well, there are acute side-effects. Occassionaly it causes vomiting and diarrhea, for example. This is not a sign of catnip overdose or some dangerous side-effect. Likely it is just a signal that your cat is not used to it. Cats will often vomit from eating unfamiliar foods, what is known as “dietary indescretion” by those clever veterinarians. As well, some cats have what seems to be a “bad trip” and become agitated or even aggressive. If your cat reacts this way, no more catnip! If your cat has health problems, especially heart problems, you should consult your veterinarian before using catnip. Since catnip increases heart-rate, it could be dangerous for cats with heart problems.

All in all, though, catnip has been found to be safe for cats.

What form of Catnip is Best?

Fresh catnip is the best, and has the strongest effect. Catnip is easy to grow at home, and pet stores even sell the fresh plant for you to bring home. All you need to do is squeeze and rub a leaf between your fingers to release the oils, then place it on the floor for your cat. Fresh catnip will not stay fresh for long. Keep it in the refrigerator.

Dried catnip also works, and is the form most often used. This can be purchased in packs, and it is often placed inside toys. Ground herb goes stale but it is fine to use. Toys with the ground herb inside them are probably not the best choice unless the catnip can be replenished, as once it goes stale and loses its potency, it will be just a plain old cat toy.

Another way to use catnip is in the form of a catnip extract spray, which I use often for our cats. The sprays do work quite well and they are a very convenient way to keep your cat in catnip. It is easy to spray any of your cat’s toys, or a scratching post, to stimulate them to play. They will lick and scratch whatever you spray. When they seem bored, you can spray some more on their toy to help get them interested, and perhaps distracted if they are bothering you!

Does Catnip Affect Humans?

Yes, catnip does affect humans. However, while catnip is a stimulant to cats, it has the opposite effect on humans. It relaxes us. In fact, catnip, which can be consumed in a tea, is a very good relaxant herb for humans and is one of the safest herbs for this purpose you can possibly use. It can even be given to children. In fact, I gave my son catnip tea when he was young and collicky or teething. He would literally calm down as soon as he saw it coming. It is also soothing for upset stomachs, helps with nausea, and is a carmitive, meaning it helps to expel gas.

Cats also Like Valerian

Catnip is not the only herb that cats are attracted to. Valerian ((Valeriana officinalis), is another. Valerian, unfortunately, does not smell as nice as catnip. It has what most people describe as a stinky foot odor. Rats are attracted to it as well.

Valerian has a similar effect on cats as catnip, and perks them up, but also relaxes them. Valerian has a calming effect on humans as well, but the effect is not as short-acting as other calming herbs. The smell, though, is probably what keeps it out of your Sleepy Time tea. Valerian can be used to help relax nervous cats and can be used in dried or fresh form.

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