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What Is Catnip & Why Do Cats Love It?

If you’ve ever seen a cat succumb to the effects of catnip, you probably wonder what causes this silly feline behavior. It’s entertaining to witness a kitty transform from a lazy and impassive state to one of rolling around on the ground and purring uncontrollably. But just what is catnip, and why do cats love it so much? Let’s find out.

What Is Catnip?

Nepeta cataria—also known as catswort, catmint, or catnip—is one of 250 species of mint. It’s a leafy green perennial herb that can grow up to three feet tall. Catnip leaves and stems contain the organic compound nepetalactone, the oil responsible for attracting and affecting cats.

Is Catnip Safe?

Yes, catnip is completely non-toxic and safe for cats to inhale and ingest. If you allow your cat to eat too much of this herb, he may vomit and have diarrhea for a short time, but his system will return to normal (as long as you don’t feed him any more catnip).

This herb is even known to help humans. It has been used as a sedative for centuries, sharing many of the same characteristics as chamomile. Brewed into a tea, catnip acts as a muscle relaxant and can soothe an upset stomach. It’s even a natural yet potent mosquito repellent.

The Effects of Catnip

Not every cat goes crazy for catnip. Sensitivity to this herb is hereditary, and one-third of all cats don’t react at all. Of the two-thirds of cats that are affected, only half have a strong reaction. Because all kittens are immune to nepetalactone, you won’t know whether your feline inherited catnip sensitivity until he’s several months old.

Sniffing catnip has a stimulating effect, producing a high similar to a human on marijuana or LSD. Researchers suspect that catnip triggers the “happy” receptors in the feline brain, encouraging them to roll around, flip onto the floor, rub their heads into the catnip, purr, drool, and yowl. Some kitties become truly hyperactive or even aggressive while on catnip.

Eating catnip, on the other hand, has a sedating effect. Cats that are drawn to eating the herb mellow out.

Regardless of how your cat reacts, the effects only last about 10 minutes. It then takes about two hours for your cat to “reset” and become susceptible to the effects of catnip again.

Be aware that over-stimulating your pet with catnip may cause immunity to the herb’s effects. If you want to enjoy the fun of watching your kitty play with catnip, only allow him to indulge in this treat once every week or two.

Also, realize that catnip loses its potency over time. The best way to keep it fresh is to store it in an airtight container in the freezer.

Keep Your Cat Healthy with Regular Vet Visits

Being a good cat parent is about more than keeping your pet stimulated with occasional catnip play sessions—you should also schedule routine appointments at Germantown Vet. We’ll give your kitty a check-up and offer advice regarding nutrition, diet, and exercise requirements to help your cat maintain a healthy weight.

Whether you have any concerns about your cat’s health or it’s simply time for an annual wellness visit, please call Germantown Vet at (240) 252-7467 or contact us online.

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