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What does catnip do to cats?

Are you looking for something to add a little spark to your cat's day? Why not try introducing them to catnip, the herb that can turn even the most sedate kitty into a ball of energetic fun? Today, we explore the effects that catnip has on our feline friends and how to use it.

What is catnip?

Catnip—officially named Nepeta cataria but also called catmint—is a member of the mint family. This hardy, aromatic herb is native to Europe and Asia but is now widely cultivated in North America as well. Its drought-resistant nature, heart-shaped leaves, and small lavender or white flowers make it a popular addition to many gardens.

What does catnip do?

When our feline friends come into contact with catnip, a fascinating reaction often occurs. Your kitty may begin sniffing, licking, rubbing, purring, rolling, or playing joyfully. Pet parents are often astonished to see their typically aloof cat become captivated by an inexpensive catnip-filled toy.

The exact effects of catnip vary from cat to cat. Some become as playful as kittens, others become relaxed and dreamy, and still others display a heightened interest in scratching and chewing.

The effects of catnip on our feline family members are temporary and typically wear off in about 15-30 minutes, as your kitty becomes briefly immune to the herb's effects. Following a joyful reaction to catnip, you may notice that your kitty will sit very still and relaxed as the effects continue to wear off. 

How does catnip work?

Nepetalactone, found in the leaves, stems, and seeds of the plant, is the secret to catnip's fascinating effects on our feline friends. When your kitty sniffs or licks catnip, nepetalactone binds to receptors in the nasal tissue, stimulating their sensory neurons and triggering a series of behaviors and responses.

Nepetalactone is thought to create its mesmerizing effects by mimicking pheromones, chemicals that play a vital role in feline communication, especially during mating rituals. 

Do all cats respond to catnip?

The effects of catnip vary from one kitty to the next, with some cats appearing to be immune to the spell of nepetalactone. Researchers estimate that about 30% of our feline friends do not respond to catnip, possibly due to a genetically inherited trait that is passed down from parents. This means that in some cases the gene responsible for the “catnip reaction” is either missing or turned off.

The researchers also noted that kittens and senior cats are less likely to be affected by catnip than adult cats in their prime.

Can catnip be dangerous for cats?

Catnip is considered to be a safe and non-addictive treat for our feline family members to enjoy. Most cats will walk away when they have had enough. As such, there is there is no recommended safe dose for the herb.

There have been rare cases of cats overindulging in catnip. However, mild stomach upset is the only known adverse effect. If your kitty enjoys frequent catnip adventures, they will likely build up a tolerance to the herb's effect that will gradually diminish their response to nepetalactone.

While catnip is considered safe, veterinarians recommend using it in moderation and under supervision, about once every few weeks.

Should I introduce catnip to my cat?

Many cats safely enjoy the effects of catnip. Since the plant is non-toxic, it may be worth trying with your kitty to see how they respond. If you are unsure about whether catnip is right for your feline family member, speak to your vet. Your veterinarian will be able to provide you with valuable guidance regarding catnip use and so much more. 

Do people respond to catnip?

Well, in spite of how much fun your feline friend might have when playing with catnip, this common herb has no effects on the emotions or well-being of people. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. If you are concerned about your pet's health, contact your veterinarian right away for diagnosis and treatment.

Looking for reliable veterinary care that you can count on? Our Leighton vets provide all of the preventive and medical services your kitty needs to stay happy and healthy. Contact us today to book an appointment for your feline friend.

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Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Leighton animals. We currently only take pets by walk-in, so bring your pet to us today and let us help ensure their well-being.

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