The Joys of Catnip

Not all cats respond to catnip, but those that do, exhibit a boundless joy.

Catnip or catmint, as it is known in some areas, is a gray-greenish herb from the mint family, and is safe and non-addictive for cats. Not all cats respond to catnip (about 70% are able to respond), but if you are lucky to have a cat that does, the release that comes with finding that one special toy can be very rewarding. A few facts to note about catnip:

  • The active ingredient is a chemical compound called “nepetalactone” that causes behavioral changes in two-thirds of all cats exposed to it.
  • Responses can range from rolling, rubbing, drooling, licking, and jumping to sedation after exposure.
  • Very young and senior cats do not respond as much, or at all, to catnip.
  • If you chose to purchase your catnip from a retailer, be aware the leaves and blossoms are the main ingredient. Stems will do nothing but act as filler material.
  • Consumption of large quantities of catnip may induce vomiting, but rest-assured catnip is completely non-toxic to cats. If a large quantity of fresh catnip is consumed, however, you may see some vomiting or diarrhea, but this is rare and self-limiting. The cure is simple, just withhold the catnip.
  • Catnip grows wild in temperate Asia, North America, and Europe, but can be home grown as well. It is best grown out-of-doors, however, because of its size and invasiveness.
  • Catnip can also be good for your garden. The plant is a natural pest repellent and provides some protection against aphids, corn earworms, cucumber beetles, flea beetles, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, and mice.
  • Catnip is often used as a training aid. Sprinkle it in areas where you want to draw your cat’s attention. Frequent use in one area may help keep him near the scratching post and away from your furniture.
  • One note of caution: If you have a male cat in a multi-cat household, isolate him the first time you give him catnip. If your cat is aggressive by nature, catnip may cause that aggressive behavior to escalate.

Aggression aside, catnip is a healthy and fun treat for your cat; and fun too, for those who happen to be around to watch him experience his catnip “high”.