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Catnip and cats

Catnip and cats

Catnip is a plant with pretty coloured flowers at the tip and heart shaped leaves on a thick stem and contains a chemical ingredient that often has a stimulating effect on cats. In this article, we will discuss the possible effects it can have on your cat, and common questions you may have regarding catnip.

How Does Catnip Work?

Catnip contains chemicals that trigger a behavioural response in cats when they breathe it in. What is this behavioural response? Well, let’s use an example that I’m sure we’ve all been exposed to. The smell of delicious freshly baked cookies comes wafting to your nostrils, this triggers you to salivate, so you to walk to the kitchen and cannot help eating the cookies. Afterwards, you feel full and satisfied; they sure were tasty! Now some people do not like cookies, while others may feel guilty or mad at themselves for having no self-control. So although the majority of people may love cookies, the response is quite variable. Cats show similar behavioural responses when given catnip. Usually, cats get a pleasurable experience, resulting in them rubbing, purring, and rolling happily, but this is not always the case. If you happen to be the owner of an aggressive cat, be very cautious when giving it catnip as unfortunately it has the potential to make it even more aggressive.

Why Does My Cat Not Like Catnip?

Interestingly enough, not all cats respond to catnip. An estimated 25% of cats do not respond to catnip. Why is this? If it turns out that both your pet’s mother and father did NOT respond to catnip then neither will your pet. On the other hand, if your cat’s mother and father respond to catnip, then so will your cat. Additionally, if either one of the cat’s parents respond to catnip, then so will your cat. This means that the ability to be affected by catnip is a dominant trait. Thus, it is more likely that cats will be affected by catnip than not. However, if your cat is younger than 8 weeks old, this is not a good indicator of whether catnip will affect it, as kittens are unable to respond to it at a young age.

Should I be Giving a Drug to my Cat?

To date, there has been no substantial evidence to prove that catnip is not safe. Additionally, it is non-addictive. Some exceptions being the previously mentioned aggressive cats and cats that have a history of seizures. This cannot be said for certain, but an overdose of catnip may actually cause seizures. Overdose, or giving a cat too much catnip for an extended period of time may also decrease a cat’s mental ability and change its personality. To date, it has not been proven 100% that catnip is either safe or unsafe. It is up to the discretion of you, the owner, to make an informed decision regarding your cat and catnip. Though problems can occur (especially with overdoses), it more commonly results in the pleasurable response. Basically, moderation is the key.

Interesting Catnip Facts

  • The actual effect of the catnip, pleasurable or not, usually lasts only a couple of minutes.
  • After a catnip encounter, cats have to wait two hours before they can experience the same pleasurable response as before. This time period is necessary for the cat’s body to reset to its normal state.
  • In humans, catnip can act as a weak sedative, a herbal fever-reducing agent, antibacterial, and stop muscle spasms. It can also cause vomiting.
  • Did you know that most Australian cats are not susceptible to catnip? Strange enough, the reason for this is because domestic cats in Australia are bred from a very small original population. These original cats did not respond to catnip, so neither do the cats they gave birth to. Those poor Australian cats do not know what they are missing.

In conclusion, although catnip is a drug, it is generally regarded as safe to give to your cat in moderation. Ask your vet if you are unsure about trying out catnip on your pet, a decision that is best not taken too lightly in light of some potential consequences. If your pet is in the 75% that love catnip though, you will have a riot at the hilarity that ensures!

By Laura Platt – writer

4 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar katt says:

    Laura Platt,
    Can you please clarify?
    How is catnip a drug?

    You define catnip as a plant in the intro, but then refer to it twice as a drug. I would appreciate any further details you can provide about its biological properties.


    • Avatar Marko says:

      I don’t think the author meant it is a drug in the same way aspirin is, rather that it can interact and cause a behavioural change.
      The biological properties of catnip are not relevent to this article.

    • Avatar James says:

      Katt, catnip is a plant and a ‘drug’ in the same way that marijuana is both a plant and a drug. Interestingly, Aspirin was originally produced from willow bark, which is a plant.

  2. Avatar nicky says:

    I have a 17 year old cat and bought a catnip spray to put on his scratching post. He has loved small amounts of a real catnip plant we had in the garden in the past and I thought this may cheer him up as the weather is so awful at the moment. He had a seizure about 1/2 an hour later which totally petrified me and my son……we really thought we were going to lose him. I cannot catagorically say that the catnip spray caused this…..but he has never had a fit before and I can see nothing else in his day, health or behaviour that may have caused this. I always thought catnip was safe and your article above is one of the only ones I have found that mentions this risk.

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