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Understanding Catnip

May 15, 2017

We’ve all heard of catnip! Many of our feline friends go wild for the stuff. How much do you know about catnip, though? Learn more here from a vet in Tipp City, OH.

What is Catnip, Anyway?

Catnip is an herb, classified in the same plant family as mint. It’s found all over the world, and appears in the wild as a leafy green plant with white flowers. The catnip you’ll buy in the pet store is most often a processed and dried version, and it appears much like a container of dried oregano or basil. There are also catnip sprays and a variety of toys and other items with catnip inside of them.

How Do Cats Respond to the Herb?

Cats respond in a variety of ways when they encounter catnip. Some will run around excitedly for several minutes at a time, darting this way and that. Others might roll around in the area where the catnip was sprinkled, rubbing their paws or face vigorously. Still other cats may simply lay down in a euphoric state, perhaps even spreading out the limbs to relax.

Why Does Catnip Cause Reactions in Cats?

The catnip plant’s stem and leaves contain an oil in which is found a chemical substance known as nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is the root cause of the reactions that you’ll see in your feline friend—experts say it acts as a type of aphrodisiac in our cats, eliciting what amounts to a sexual response in a cat’s brain!

Is Catnip Safe?

Yes, catnip is entirely safe and shouldn’t cause any adverse effects in your cat whatsoever. The effects are only temporary, typically lasting about 5 to 10 minutes (although this can vary depending on the type and amount of catnip used; usually, “raw” catnip will prove more potent than sprays or other products).

My Cat Doesn’t Respond to Catnip. Why?

Have you tried catnip or a catnip product on your cat, to no avail? Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with Fluffy! It turns out that cats require a particular gene from their parents in order to feel catnip’s effects. If they don’t have it, nothing will happen. You may be surprised to learn that nearly half of all our feline friends don’t respond to catnip at all!

Do you have further questions about catnip and its effects on cats? We’re here for you! Contact your Tipp City, OH veterinarian.