Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a flowering plant known to make cats go crazy due to the release of allomones such as nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is a volatile (smell) product produced by the plant to repel insects, yet its smell can cause cats to become playful, rambunctious, euphoric or even spaced out.
The response to catnip is hereditary, meaning it is passed on from the parents, and catnip sensitivity only affects two-thirds of cats. Catnip does not cause an effect on kittens until about six months to one year of age.
Like dogs, cats have highly developed senses, including smell, and they are attracted to catnip due to its smell rather than taste. Cats enjoy the smell of catnip by rolling on the plant, sniffing, licking or smooching on the stalks. The smell released by the plant binds to receptors inside the cat’s nose that are linked to the brain. The cat’s brain responds to these signals as it would to sex pheromones and this is why some cats will exhibit signs similar to a female cat in heat.
Catnip is generally believed to be safe. It is considered non toxic or addictive for cats and dogs, or humans for that matter. Your cat’s catnip reaction may last anywhere from five to 15 minutes, however, it could take a further 30 minutes without smelling catnip for the cat to enjoy its effects again. If your cat decides to ingest the plant rather than just smell it, the catnip will likely act as a sedative rather than giving your cat a high.
Should you have catnip available for your cat?
Some studies have shown that shy or scared cats will respond to catnip the same as a bold cat. So if you have a timid cat, think about offering catnip to it and see their personality come out. Smell stimulation can be overlooked in our indoor dwelling felines, leading to them becoming bored or stressed. Provide catnip in pot plants or in a toy to allow them to use their olfactory/smell senses. If your cat gets an upset tummy from ingesting the plant then consider a spray or stuffed toy instead.
Want to grow some catnip for your cat? Here are a few tips for good plant growth.
Choose a hardy plant from your local garden store.
Place in a full sun or partial shade position.
Ensure well draining soil.
Prune yearly to encourage new growth.