Catnip, the stuff that turns your cat from a placid couch dweller into a crazy, frisky, drooling tumble-turning back-flipping feline, derives its name from the Latin word Nepeta cataria, and it’s a member of the genus Nepeta (derived from Nepete, the Italian town where catnip was first cultivated). Catnip is also sometimes referred to as “catmint” or “catswort”.
The plant is native to Africa, Europe and Asia and there are over 250 different species of catnip grown all over the world today.
Catnip works just as well fresh as it does dried and commercial catnip toys will contain dried, ground catnip.
The leaves and the stems of the catnip plant have little bulbs containing an oil called nepetalactone. When a cat smells nepetalactone it stimulates a chemical reaction in the cat that creates a feeling of euphoria, similar to what hallucinogenic drugs do to humans. The prevailing theory is that nepetalactone mimics a cat pheromone, which is why catnip is actually a feline aphrodisiac. Cats, including tigers, sense these pheromones through their vomeronasal organs.
When a cat smells catnip it usually licks, chews, rubs against and rolls around on the plant (or the toy that contains it) and may even drool, growl, purr or meow. You will probably see your cat transform into a really crazy cat for about five to fifteen minutes. A cat will then usually lose interest and needs about two hours of rest before it has the same reaction.
Cats are either predisposed to catnip or not: Two thirds of all cats love it though! The response to catnip is genetically inherited, with kittens younger than six months and very old cats the least likely to respond to it. In the wild, catnip has been known to affect big cats such as lions, tigers and leopards!
Does catnip have any other use besides entertaining our pets?
Catnip has a long history of medicinal use by humans. If steeped in boiling water, it is known to treat nausea, insomnia, migraines, headaches and toothache and can be also be used as a mild sedative.
It can also be used as a natural repellent for mosquitoes, cockroaches, termites and flies. In fact nepetalactone has been found to be 10 times more effective that DEET, the ingredient used in most insect repellents. Unfortunately it loses its repellent qualities when applied to the skin.
Should I give my cat catnip, and when?
If you have a lazy cat, it may encourage her to exercise (by playing with catnip toys). If your cat is too active, it may have a calming effect on her. Adding a catnip scratching post near your most-valued furniture may save the furniture from damage. You won’t know what effect catnip will have on your cat until you try it. If your cat becomes aggressive when exposed to catnip, you may want to try an alternative such as valerian root or honeysuckle.
Magic Cat Kittyware has a wonderful range of organic catnip toys, our most popular being the Tickle Pickle which comes in 3 different sizes. Click here to check them out and spoil your kitty!
And to make you laugh, watch this video of cats getting high on catnip!