An interesting phenomenon is seeing cats go off-their-scratcher for catnip, which is an herb. Who knew that by sniffing or eating this plant that it would make cats act in interesting ways. For our entertainment or not, catnip has proven benefits for felines—but that still leaves us with the question, what does catnip do to cats?
Where did catnip come from?
Nepeta cataria, the scientific name for catnip, is an herb in the mint family. Indigenous to Europe, it was transplanted to North America during European settlement. But, catnip isn’t the only herb known to get cats to boogie. A study suggests that valerian root, silver vine, and Tatarian honeysuckle can also make cats behave similarly to catnip. These alternative herbs are safe, but here are 12 dangerous mistakes cat owners should never make.
So, what does catnip do to cats?
Cats are receptive to a volatile oil (an oil that evaporates in the air) found in the stems and leaves of the catnip herb. When cats get a whiff of catnip, they behave similarly to female cats in heat—erratic movements, strange howls, and all. This out-of-fur experience is due to the active ingredient in the oil, nepetalactone. It binds to receptors inside the cat’s nose and drives its sensory neurons crazy, according to Daniel Rotman, CEO of Pretty Litter.
However, when a cat eats the herb, it has a calming effect. “If the catnip is ingested, it causes fatigue and works as a sedative. For cats that sniff catnip and rub against the plants, they’ll get more of the stimulating effects,” Rotman said. “Both smelling and ingesting catnip is safe for your feline family member.”
How long does it last?
Catnip’s effects have a ticking clock—about five to 30 minutes, Rotman said. This is all dependent on the cat because only two-thirds of adult cats are affected by catnip, according to a study. “About 50 percent of cats seem to be affected by catnip, and the behavior that results varies widely between individuals,” Rotman said. “[This] is an inherited sensitivity and it doesn’t show up immediately. Instead, it will take a few months since young kittens are not affected.”
What are the benefits?
Under-stimulated house cats could do well to escape their bland surroundings. Cats are born to move—here’s how you can even train a cat. Their razor-sharp instincts need to be housed in an equally stimulating home, studies show. If not, this leads to aggressive, depressed, or anxious behavior in cats.
Although using catnip may seem like a drug, Rotman confirmed that it’s not addictive for cats. He did mention that catnip sometimes makes cats aggressive, though. “If you have a multi-cat household, it’s recommended to introduce catnip to each cat individually to avoid any potential fighting,” Rotman said. Now that you know how catnip affects your feline friend, you’ll want to decode the rest of your kitty’s behavior too.
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