Catnip for Cats – Your Complete Guide

Chinchilla Persian cat

Wait, you give your cat catnip?

Maybe you have been asked this question before. Catnip can be a controversial topic. Some pet owners swear by this treat. Others refuse to give their cat this “drug.” But what exactly is catnip? And is it safe for your pet?

If you are unsure about catnip or just have some general questions, you have come to the right place. This post is a complete guide to all things catnip. It includes FAQs and an overview of popular catnip products.

Ready to get answers to all your catnip-related questions? Let’s get started.

Catnip FAQs

I am going to address 10 common questions about catnip. Hopefully, this will cover most (if not all) of your concerns about catnip.

What is Catnip?

This is the perfect place to start. What exactly is catnip?

Catnip is a plant. In fact, it’s a perennial (lives more than two years) herb. Catnip, or Nepeta cataria as it’s known in the science community, is a member of the mint family. Catnip is also known as catswort and catmint.

And despite your cat’s strange reactions, catnip is not a drug. Catnip bulbs contain the chemical nepetalactone. When the nepetalactone oil is released, some cats experience a short period of hyperactivity.

Is Catnip Safe?

As we discussed earlier, catnip is not a drug. It is a herb that causes some cats to become hyperactive.

The catnip plant is non-toxic to felines. But, some cats can become overexposed to catnip. To prevent overexposure, make sure you store your catnip out of your cat’s reach. However, if your cat is overexposed, your cat might experience vomiting or diarrhea. In this case, limit or eliminate your catnip from your home. Catnip is also non-toxic to humans and dogs.

Of course, you should talk to your vet about your cat’s reaction to catnip. If this plant causes an especially strong reaction in your pet, you will need to decide if you should continue offering it to your furry friend.

Is Catnip Addictive?

No, catnip is not addictive for cats.

Catnip can cause your cat to act strange, hyperactive, or even sleepy. But cats don’t become addicted to catnip. Still, make sure you store catnip away from your cat. You should limit their exposure to this herb.

How Does Catnip Work?

Ok, so now we know that catnip is a non-toxic herb. But how exactly does it cause such a strange reaction in cats?

Catnip leaves and bulbs contain the chemical nepetalactone. This chemical must be released to cause a reaction in your cat. To release the oil, cats will rub, chew, roll, and scratch catnip. And contrary to popular belief, it is the smell, not the taste, of catnip that cats respond to.

Unfortunately, science has not fully discovered why catnip causes a strong reaction in cats. But the prevailing theory suggests that the nepetalactone oil enters a cat’s nose and binds to their olfactory receptors. Sensory neurons then send signals to the brain. Basically, nepetalactone oil might act similarly to pheromones.

If your cat is susceptible to catnip, you will notice a strange reaction after they encounter the herb. They might experience a “high” and become hyperactive. During this period, they might stretch, roll over, become aggressive, drool, or jump. Not every cat displays the same reactions to catnip. In fact, only 70-80% of cats display any signs of reaction to the herb.

A catnip “high”, generally lasts for 5-15 minutes. Your cat will probably become bored with the catnip and move on to something else. Following the “high”, they will likely experience a mellow period. After a few hours, they could have a similar reaction if they smell the oil again.

How Do You Use Catnip?

Although all catnip-products are derived from the same herb, there are a few different ways to introduce your cat to catnip.

  • Fresh Catnip- Catnip is a herb. You can grow your own catnip and give your pet a few pieces at a time. Just remember that fresh catnip is much stronger than dried, so only offer small pieces to your pet.
  • Dried Catnip- Dried catnip is less potent than the fresh variety. This is the most common form of commercial catnip. You can sprinkle dried catnip on soft surfaces or a scratching post. Some pet owners use this as a training aid.
  • Catnip Toys- Pet stores typically sell toys stuffed with dried catnip. If your cat is having too strong of a reaction, simply keep the toy out of their reach.
  • Catnip Spray- This is less potent than dried catnip. However, many pet owners use this to attract their cat to a particular object or area. It’s a non-messy alternative to dried catnip.
  • Catnip Bubbles- Yes, this is a liquid toy form of catnip. Catnip bubbles are basically the classic bubbles that kids enjoy, just enhanced with catnip. You cat might enjoy chasing and popping these bubbles. However, these are often not potent enough to cause the typical catnip reaction.

When Should You Use Catnip?

There is no “right time” to give your catnip. Ultimately, the decision is up to you.

You should consider your cat’s reaction before you offer them catnip. Some cats react to catnip by running around. So, catnip could be used to encourage a lazy cat to exercise. However, other cats mellow out after smelling catnip. In this case, you could give catnip to a high strung cat who needs to relax.

Catnip can also be used to train a cat. Cats are attracted to catnip, so you could use this to encourage your pet to use certain objects or areas of the house. For example, if they are scratching furniture, use catnip to attract them to their own scratching post.

How do you Store Catnip?

Catnip should be stored away from cats. You should only offer the herb to your cats when you are around to observe their behavior.

Dried catnip can last for a few months. Keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. After a few months, the oil’s smell will fade. When the smell fades, the catnip is no longer effective.

What are the Benefits of Catnip?

Yes, catnip can cause hyperactivity in cats. But there are actually a few benefits for your feline.

  • Catnip can act as a mild sedative and help relieve your cat’s stress.
  • This herb has been shown to relieve upset stomachs in some cats.
  • Catnip can encourage sedentary cats to run around and get exercise.

Generally, catnip is used as a treat for your cat. It is not a medical product that is used to treat any major illnesses.

Are Humans Affected by Catnip?

Humans do not experience the catnip high.

However, humans can experience some side effects after exposure to catnip. Catnip tea is a common way for humans to consume this herb. And although there is not enough evidence about the effects of catnip, this is often used to:

  • Relieve muscle and menstrual cramping
  • Aid digestive
  • Promote a healthy immune system

Catnip has even been used as an insect repellent. Catnip spray is a strong deterrent for mosquitoes.

What are the Varieties of Catnip?

Catnip is a member of the mint family, Labiatae. This family has over 250 varieties. Nepeta cataria is the true form of catnip. It is a flowering plant that typically produces white flowers.

Catnip Products

Alright, now that we know more about catnip, let’s look at some popular catnip products.

Dried Catnip

This is the most common form of catnip. Dried catnip is less potent than the fresh herb.

To use dried catnip, crush the flakes between your fingers to release the oil. You can use dried catnip as a treat or training item. If you want to attract your cat to certain things, (like toys, scratching posts, a cat bed, etc.) simply sprinkle catnip on those items.

Dried catnip will stimulate most cats. This is a way to encourage lazy cats to exercise. They will likely run around and burn energy after smelling catnip.

Make sure to store dried catnip in a cool dry place. Keep it out of your cat’s reach to avoid overexposure.

PROS:

  • Useful way to attract a cat to scratcher, bed, toys, etc.
  • Tool to encourage cats to exercise more
  • Inexpensive

CONS:

  • Dried catnip can be messy
  • Not all cats respond to catnip

Catnip Spray

Catnip spray is a clean alternative to dried catnip. Instead of dealing with dried catnip flakes, simply spray a liquid to attract your cat.

Catnip spray is very potent, so remember that a little goes a long way. Just like dried catnip, this spray can be used to train or attract your cat. You can also use it to encourage your cat to exercise.

For best results, shake the bottle before use.

PROS:

  • Useful way to attract a cat to scratcher, bed, toys, etc.
  • Tool to encourage cats to exercise more
  • Inexpensive
  • Less messy than dried catnip

CONS:

  • Not all cats respond to catnip
  • Very potent, so it is easy to use too much

Catnip Bubbles

If you are more interested in using catnip as a toy, consider catnip bubbles. This liquid catnip works just like regular bubbles. Blow through the wand and watch your cat chase the catnip oil-infused bubbles.

This product is not intended as a training device. But it is a way to encourage your cat to get more exercise.

Unfortunately, the bubbles are not very potent. So most cats do not react with the typical catnip “high.” If you are looking for a strong catnip product, I would not recommend catnip bubbles. Your cat might enjoy chasing the bubbles, but they probably won’t react any differently than they would to normal bubbles.

PROS:

  • Tool to encourage cats to exercise more

CONS:

  • Bubbles are not very potent
  • More expensive than products that are more potent
  • The bubble liquid can be messy to clean up

Catnip Toys

Catnip toys are a classic way to introduce your cat to this herb. You can find soft or plastic toys filled with dried catnip. Many cats enjoy scratching, chasing, and playing with these catnip filled toys.

Most catnip toys have a strong enough catnip smell to encourage cats to play. Some cats will experience the catnip “high” after playing with these catnip-stuffed toys.

PROS:

  • Tool to encourage cats to exercise more
  • Inexpensive
  • Most toys are potent enough for cats to react

CONS:

  • Not all cats respond to catnip

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, you have to decide if catnip if right for your cat. This can be a controversial topic. Some pet owners refuse to introduce their cat to catnip. Others use catnip as a treat and training device.

I hope this guide helped you understand what catnip is and how it is used. Catnip is a non-toxic herb. Not all cats respond to catnip. However, cats who are susceptible to catnip often experience a period of hyperactivity after smelling catnip. They might run around, jump, or roll. Catnip is a tool to encourage exercise in some cats.

Catnip can also produce a mellowing effect in some cats. Some pet owners give their cats catnip to help them relax during a stressful event. It is important to only give catnip when you can observe your pet. If cats consume too much, they might experience vomiting or diarrhea.

Catnip does not produce the same results in humans. However, some people drink catnip tea to relieve painful cramping, promote a healthy immune system, and aid in digestion. Catnip spray can also be used as an insect repellent.

If you decide to give introduce your cat to catnip, consider using dried catnip. Or give them a catnip toy. These products are very popular and have the best results. Catnip can be a great and natural way to encourage your cat to play and exercise. You can also use catnip to train your pet.

Have you given catnip to your cat? We would love to hear about your experience! Please feel free to share your story below.

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