When it comes to catnip, some cat owners question whether or not it is ethical to provide their cats with a substance that appears to induce behavior that can be compared to when a human gets high on illicit drugs. Learn the facts about catnip, and discover how you can use this harmless herb to enhance your cat's contentment.

What Is Catnip?

Catnip is a perennial herb that can grow wild or be cultivated in pots and garden beds. This member of the mint family is native to Europe, Asia and Africa, and it is grown in the United States and Canada. The chemical compound in catnip leaves, which is an essential oil called nepetalactone, is the substance to which cats react. When the cat sniffs this oil, it acts as a stimulant that triggers the euphoric reaction from the amygdala and hypothalamus regions of the brain. The effect is temporary, usually lasting only a few minutes. Catnip does not affect all cats in this manner. In fact, many cats do not exhibit any reaction when exposed to catnip. Responding to catnip's effects is an inherited trait. The good news about catnip is that is it neither toxic nor addictive to those cats who launch into full-blown ecstasy when indulging in their catnip pleasure. No matter how high your cat seems to be getting, at least she does not have opposable thumbs to swipe your car keys and take a drive around the town recklessly.

What Is the Purpose of Catnip for Cats?

Just as some humans savor an occasional bottle of exquisite wine, some cats derive simple pleasure from a new catnip toy. They paw at the toy, pounce at it, drool, twitch their whiskers, emit low growls and roll around in sheer delight. If your cat is susceptible to its effects, the purpose of catnip is little more than an easy way to gift your feline friend with something entertaining. It can also be enlisted as a training device. If your cat has snubbed the new designer scratching post that you bought for her and continues to show a preference for your sofa instead, sprinkling loose catnip on the scratching post can be helpful in coaxing her attention to it.

How Can You Offer Catnip to Your Cat?

Catnip is available in a variety of presentations to maximize your cat's enjoyment. Some ways to offer your cat her fix include the following:

  • Catnip-filled toys that she can kick, grab, bite and toss
  • Catnip-infused bubbles that you can blow for her to chase and pop
  • Catnip-infused spray to scent her belongings, such as her kitty condo and scratching post
  • Loose catnip that you can sprinkle on her belongings or stuff into homemade cat toys

You can also offer your cat dental chews and cat treats that are flavored with catnip.

Be aware that some cats can become aggressive when they are in the zone of a catnip high. If you have multiple cats, arrange for them to partake individually at first to see how each one responds to the catnip's effects.

Kitty's Homegrown Garden

Whether you have a green thumb or you're a gardening novice, catnip is an easy plant to grow. While it can be grown in an herb garden bed in your yard, be aware that the neighborhood cats may help themselves to your cat's stash. Consider planting the catnip in pots that you can place in a sunny location inside your home. You may need to ensure that this spot is out of your cat's reach so that she doesn't devour the plant faster than it can grow. Unlike when she sniffs the catnip, eating catnip leaves will not give her the cat crazies. Catnip leaf consumption has the opposite effect, acting as a very mild sedative. This is not harmful. She will simply heed the call to her next catnap a little sooner than she had planned. Excessive consumption of the herb may result in diarrhea or vomiting due to stomach upset, so try to prevent your kitty from binging.

If your cat goes crazy for catnip, bring home a fresh offering of catnip whenever you visit the pet supply store. While humans are advised to say no to substance use, you can say yes to catnip for your furry friend. Cats have the good fortune of enjoying their energized state of euphoria with a substance that will not jeopardize their health and safety. If you have more questions about catnip and whether it's right for your cat, contact a veterinarian like Phoenixville Animal Hospital - R B Wolstenholme DVM.