What is catnip? Everything you need to know

If you’re a cat parent, you’ve probably come across catnip before now. Pet shops are full of catnip-based toys, and even non cat-people have probably heard of it! But what actually *is* catnip, and why do our cats go so crazy for it? 

Whether you’re a first time cat parent, or you just want to know more about this mysterious substance that cats can’t get enough of, here’s everything you need to know about catnip.

 

What is catnip?

Catnip is a plant, and it’s actually a member of the mint family. (Its fancy latin plant name is nepeta cataria, and it’s sometimes called catmint, too.) 

The plant is native to Europe and Asia but these days it can be found growing almost everywhere, from North America to New Zealand. It can grow up to 3 feet tall and produces flowers that vary from white to purple in colour. 

Why do cats love catnip?

Catnip contains a naturally-occurring oil called nepetalactone, which is a feline attractant. Cats inhale the nepetalactone, whether from the living plant, dried plant, or an oil. This then triggers a pretty intense reaction in a lot of cats, as it activates certain areas in their brain responsible for emotion and behaviour, sending even the most chill of cats into a mini frenzy. And it’s not just domestic cats that are attracted to catnip—big cats like tigers and jaguars can react to catnip in a very similar way! 

Not all cats have the same response to catnip, however. Around one third of cats are not affected by catnip, and this is believed to be genetic. So if you have two cats at home, one might go wild for catnip while the other won’t even give it the time of day. Kittens also don’t react to catnip, and this sensitivity doesn’t tend to emerge until adolescence (that’s if they even have it at all). 

 

How do cats react to catnip?

Common behaviours seen after cats are exposed to catnip include rubbing against or rolling in the catnip. After this, they’ll often become especially chilled or may even seem a little zoned out. Some cats can even become hyperactive or aggressive when given catnip, and due to the nature of these reactions, it’s usually best to leave them in peace while they’re doing their thing and avoid touching or handling them until they’ve chilled out!

That’s not too much of a problem though, because the effects of catnip are pretty short-lived. Cats will usually react for 5-15 minutes, and after this, they’ll lose interest and stop reacting. 

 

What do I need to be aware of?

As we previously mentioned, some cats can become either hyperactive or aggressive when exposed to catnip, so it’s best to avoid handling them or approaching them during this time. 

Also, while cats won’t build up a tolerance to catnip or be affected by overexposure, they can become ill if they’re eating the catnip—so make sure that they’re not consuming too much, otherwise it could result in an upset stomach.

 

What types of catnip are there?

Catnip comes in various different forms. For cat parents, it’s most commonly available in cat toys which have been ready-filled with catnip, but you can also buy it dried, ready to be sprinkled onto scratching posts or other toys. 

If you’re feeling green-fingered, you can even try to grow it yourself—out in the garden for cats with outdoor access, or in pots for indoor cats, so you can bring them inside!

For those cats that don’t react to catnip, there are other plants which can trigger a similar response, including silver vine and valerian, but another great treat for cats is cat grass, and our article has all the instructions you need for growing your own cat grass at home too!

29/06/2022 by NatuTeam

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