Almost all cat owners have heard of using catnip for cats. It can be found it cat toys, treats and also in its raw form. But what is it and how does it work?
What is Catnip?
Catnip is a species of flowering plant that is native to parts of Asia and Europe. It is also known as catswort, catmint, or its binomial name, Nepta Cataria. The catnip plant is a perennial herbaceous species that grows to two to four feet tall. The plant itself is typically green during peak season with triangular shaped leaves. The flowers are small and are usually a light purple or pink color. They are exposed for most of the season and have a fairly strong fragrance. Catnip belongs to the mint family, lamiaceae.
Although the exact reason why cats love it is unknown, many scientists believe it has a drug-like effect that puts the cat in a state of euphoria. The chemical reaction is relatively harmless and only lasts a few minutes. Olfactory fatigue kicks in due to the prolonged exposure to the scent (essentially they adjust to it much like humans do to food in a restaurant).
Why Do Cats Like Catnip?
Catnip contains the chemical nepetalactone. Nepetalactone gives off a scent to cats that is highly stimulating and enjoyable for felines. Cats smell the chemical through their olfactory epithelium in their nasal cavity. Once the scent takes its hold on the feline, it will purr, rub against it, lick or chew it or do other things that give you the sense that the cat enjoys it.
Do All Cats Like Catnip?
Not all cats have the same reaction to catnip. In fact, some cats will not respond to catnip at all. About 1 out of 3 cats will have no reaction to the aroma. This is contributed to heredity. Some blood lines react more than others. Additionally, kittens under the age of 6-8 weeks will either have no interest in it or some even will avoid it.
While the effects may seem potent, using catnip for cats is safe. Cats cannot overdose on catnip. Some cats will have stronger reactions than others but there are no serious health threats directly related to catnip. Strong (but rare) reactions include vomiting and diarrhea, but this appears to be more related to diet and other outside factors.
Other Uses of Catnip
In addition to stirring cats into crazes, catnip is also used for many other purposes. Catnip is common in gardens because it attracts butterflies and is a natural repellant to mosquitoes, flies and other disruptive insects. Catnip is also used in human consumption. It historically has been used for a variety of medical uses. Studies have shown it can be effective in treating stress, insomnia, and headaches. However, stronger over-the-counter medicines have lowered the popularity of catnip for these uses. Catnip is also sometimes legally smoked for a slight high.
Organic catnip can be found just about anywhere organic pet products are sold. Organic catnip for cats is made without potentially harmful chemicals and abides by the USDA’s Certified Organic Program.