What is catnip and is it safe for cats?

Catnip and Cats
Written by zfarihe

If you’ve ever fed your cat catnip, you know how much fun it is to watch their antics! But have you ever stopped to wonder if it’s safe for your cat or what it might do to your cat? In this article, we are going to explore catnip and the ways it can affect.

What is catnip?

Nepeta cataria is the scientific name for catnip, also called catmint. It is a plant in the mint family and has been used in naturopathic medicine for humans for decades4. Naturopathic uses include using the herb as an antispasmodic and sedative in homeopathic preparations and using it to reduce swelling in soft tissue injuries. Most famously, however, catnip is known for its behavior-altering effect on cats.

How does catnip work?

Catnip comes in leaf or oil form. It exerts its effect on cats through their sense of smell. The olfactory nerve, responsible for olfactory sensation, appears to be the pathway for effects on the central nervous system1.

Does catnip work on all cats?

Catnip seems to give a hallucinogenic or euphoric reaction to the majority of cats. However, not all cats seem to be affected by it and do not seem to react to it. Studies show that about two-thirds of cats react to catnip by rolling, rubbing their face, sniffling, licking, and chewing. The effect seems to last 5-15 minutes, after which many cats choose to nap3.

Interestingly, the ability to respond to catnip has a known genetic component, mother cats that respond positively to it are more likely to have kittens that experience the effects of catnip. The ability to respond to catnip is controlled by a gene passed down from parent to child5.

Is catnip safe for cats?

While it’s fun to watch your cat react to catnip, it’s reassuring to know that it’s completely safe and non-addictive. In fact, there has been significant research to suggest that catnip may be a valuable environmental enrichment tool for shelter cats, or strictly 3.

Cats in shelter situations that received catnip were more likely to exhibit playful behavior. While providing catnip-infused toys is not a substitute for human interaction, the Most studies show that catnip can be a valuable tool for improving well-being through environmental enrichment. Importantly, this was only seen in two-thirds of cats with a positive response to catnip.

How to use catnip

If you have one, I hope you are already making efforts to enrich your cat’s life with toys, climbing structures, and lots of human affection. However, adding catnip-infused toys into your cat’s daily routine might help encourage more positive and playful behaviors.

Pets Best offers a 24/7 helpline for policyholders if they have questions to ask a veterinarian about their cat and catnip.

1Bol, S., Caspers, J., Buckingham, L., Anderson-Shelton, GD, Ridgway, C., Buffington, CA, … & Bunnik, EM (2017). Reactivity of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria). BMC Veterinary Research, 13(1), 1-16.

2Ellis, SL and Wells, DL (2010). Influence of olfactory stimulation on the behavior of cats housed in shelters. Applied science of animal behavior, 123(1-2), 56-62.

3Espín-Iturbe, LT, Yañez, BAL, García, AC, Canseco-Sedano, R., Vázquez-Hernández, M., & Coria-Avila, GA (2017). Active and passive responses to catnip (Nepeta cataria) are affected by age, sex, and early gonadectomy in male and female cats. Behavioral processes, 142110-115.

4OnlineGrognet, J. (1990). Catnip: Its uses and effects, past and present. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 31(6), 455.

5Hart, BL (1977). Olfaction and feline behavior. Feline Practice (US).

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