Catnip for Cats: What Does Catnip Do to Cats
I’m sure that the Cheshire Cat was smiling so widely because he enjoyed catnip for cats – like Felix, my cat, who has the same self-satisfied grin when he has catnip. But what makes this otherwise plain herb so desirable to cats? Is it an aphrodisiac, a bit of good fun, or something potentially harmful?
Catnip for cats (Nepeta cataria), is a type of mint plant that produces a volatile oil that diffuses through the air. When the plant is bitten or stepped on, the bruised leaves let out oil that easily affects your cat (at as low concentrations in air as one part per billion!).
Cats High on Catnip: What does Catnip do to Cats
The catnip scent is similar to the calming sedatives of valerian, which we might use as a natural relaxation therapy on ourselves and our pets. Catnip for cats might also resemble a compound in tomcat urine – disgusting to humans but irresistible to cats, and can make cats behave in a similar way as catnip for cats!
Once they enter the cat’s nose or mouth, the scents are detected by special organs called the vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organs, located on the roof of the cat’s mouth, next to the hard palate and the nose septum. The organs are linked to the mouth through small channels just behind the upper incisors. Cats may make an odd frown with their lips curled back, and their mouth opens when they are detecting a scent with this organ. The Jacobson’s organs are connected to the brain’s hypothalamus, this part of the brain acts as a central hub that relays signals to different parts of the brain, and makes sense of taste and scent, regulates hunger, and signals for different behavioral actions.
A Catnip Trip!
Catnip acts like a hallucinogen for cats, with the same biochemical pathways being affected as those that are triggered by marijuana and LSD in humans. Catnip for cats causes a high that lasts around 5-15 minutes, during which they lose control of their physical bearing. What does Catnip do to cats? Cats will act like drunken people, rolling around, drooling everywhere and lolling in a relaxing way. This reaction is not an aphrodisiac, as both spayed and whole cats have the same effects from catnip.
Not all cats react similarly to catnip. Usually, cats need to be older than six months old for effect to take place, and as the reaction is genetic, two out of three domestic cats have the trait. Additionally, males seem to be more strongly affected than females. If your cat doesn’t respond to catnip, first try a stronger catnip product. I thought that my cat had no response, until trying out a much stronger brand of catnip – hurrah!
Catnip for Cats: Using Catnip to Train your Cat
It is agreed that catnip does not cause any long-term effects on cats, and it is a great recreational substance for them. Other kinds of mint and even some species of honeysuckle can trigger catnip-like reactions in some cats. In addition you can use catnip as an effective training method for responsive cats.
Use catnip for cats when introducing scratch objects to make them more attractive to your cat. You can also help shy cats become more confident with catnip, or lessen the stress of a car trip by helping the cat sleep or relax during the drive. When introducing cats to each other, use the herb as an icebreaker, and the cats will more quickly relate each other with positive experiences.
Catnip is available as toys, and in raw herb form, dried, fresh and even as kits to grow your own. Check out cat magazines, pet shops and cat aficionados for comparisons of different brands and grades of catnip. But don’t go overboard; cats can become tolerant to this herb. Limit catnip for cats treats once every few weeks at most; this is plenty for the cat.
Six ways with catnip
Catnip is a mint herb that has a compound, nepetalactone, which affects cats strongly, with reactions including rubbing, sniffles, licking, boosted confidence and even aggression. Around 80% of domestic cats will have a response to this plant, but younger and elderly cats will be less receptive.
Each of my cats loves catnip, and I have a range of items spiced with the herb. I’ve shared six catnip items below that you and your cat might like to try:
1. Catnip Toys
This is the most common manner by which catnip for cats is given. You can get lots of different types of toys spiked with catnip, such as Cosmic Catnip toys, or the Tickle Pickle toy, which contains organic catnip. Look out for the freshest and greatest amount of catnip in your toys. Try getting the toys online where they get restocked frequently. Get toys that don’t contain filling, but have just the herb as stuffing, so that they contain as much catnip as possible. You can also use catnip on other things cats play with, like rugs.
2. Dried Catnip
The dried form of catnip has many uses, from rubbing onto your cat’s toys, to use within training. Apply some dried catnip to a scratching post that you want your cat to use. Certain posts such as Imperial Cat Scratch ‘n Shapes, come with a pack of catnip for your cat to enjoy.
Ensure that you buy dried catnip that is as freshly prepared as possible. Get your catnip from an online shop that replace their stocks often. I favor the Cosmic Catnip dried catnip, and I get tubfuls of the stuff.
3. Potted Catnip
Give your cats the freshest possible form of catnip by growing it yourself. You can get catnip growing kits or whole plants from Amazon. I prefer to have already-grown plants as it is easier and faster to get your catnip, just remember to keep the plants away from your cats until the plants are big enough for usage.
Interestingly, my cats like dried catnip more than fresh catnip. However, they do like fresh live pet grass. Although grass doesn’t produce any similar catnip responses, it helps to get my indoor kitties to enjoy a bit of outdoor environment in their space.
4. Solid Catnip Balls
You can get pure balls of catnip rather than just catnip-stuffed toys. Personally, though, my four felines did not take to the balls as much as the catnip toys. They inspected the toys and quickly left them for something else. The response to solid catnip might be greater in different cats. As the balls are big, they do not bounce, and are not easily picked up by the cat; the catnip itself is the main point of the toy. I find catnip stuffed toys to be more effective though.
5. Catnip Bubbles
This toy allows you to play with your cat in a way that is different from the other toys described in this article. The catnip bubbles are made in a way similar to the bubble-blowing toys that children have. You dip a wand into a bottle of liquid and blow bubbles from the wand. The liquid is mixed with an extract of the herb.
Although I was expecting that my cats would love the bubbles, I was mistaken, as the cats looked confused about my blowing bubbles. They didn’t go for the bubbles, but instead looked at my actions and then ran away from the bubbles flying towards them. Though one cat finally realized that the bubbles were harmless, he wasn’t very keen on them. I think that other cats might be more enthused about this product than mine.
6. Catnip Spray
This product is very useful for putting catnip scent onto anything you like and anywhere you want your cat to be frequent. You can make cats come to the right scratching post, attract your cat to sleep in its bed, or make unloved toys attractive again.
The catnip spray might not be as strong as the dried herb, but nevertheless, it is tidier and easier to clean up, so it is a good item to have in your kit for kitty fun.
What is your experience with catnip? Let me know in the comments or write me a mail.