Last Updated on July 8, 2021 by Jenny
Catnip – Everything You Need to Know
To most cats out there, catnip is the ultimate delight. But how and why does it work so well on them? And is it just cats that it has an effect on, or does it work on humans as well? Some people say that catnip is a drug, but is that actually true? Here is everything you need to know about catnip, its properties, how it works, as well as the biggest myths behind it.
Can cats overdose on catnip? – Highlights
- Catnip is not a drug for cats because it causes a limited effect of euphoria that is predictable and quantifiable, it is not addictive, and cats cannot overdose on it.
- Only 60% of cats respond to catnip. The ability to respond to catnip is hereditary and it is not present in all cats. Also, this ability may fade away in time.
- The effects of catnip on cats are caused by a volatile oil called nepetalactone.
- Catnip does not have the same effects on humans and cats. This plant is not dangerous to keep around the house. In fact, it is an excellent mosquito repellant.
- Readers Favorite Catnip Toy – Yeowww! Cat Catnip Made in USA
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What is catnip anyway?
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is actually part of the mint family, so like its minty siblings, it is very rich in organic oils. Catnip is rich in nepetalactone, a volatile oil which is stored in small bulbs that cover the entire plant. Whenever these minute bulbs are ruptured, the nepetalactone is released into the air, and cats, that are extremely sensitive to smells, are immediately drawn to the plant. This is why cats have such a rapid response to catnip.Here is everything you need to know about catnip, its properties, how it works, as well as the biggest myths behind it. Click To Tweet
How does catnip work?
The nepetalactone is the key substance behind the dramatic response that cats exhibit to catnip. When the plant (dried or fresh) is handled, the volatile nepetalactone is released, drawing in the cats. The cats inhale the substance and it binds to olfactory receptors in their nose, which causes a response in the neurons in the olfactory bulb, which is the nose’s connection to the nervous system. The response in the olfactory bulb is projected to neurons from several areas of the brain.
Among these areas is the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that acts on other glands and systems regulating the response. It controls everything from hunger to fear and all types of emotions. After the hypothalamus processes the information from the olfactory bulb, it generates a neuroendocrine response via the pituitary gland, which leads to a “sexual response”. This makes catnip an artificial pheromone.
This explains why cats become instantly loving and even euphoric when exposed to catnip. This is actually extremely similar to how humans react to certain drugs, which is why most people have drawn the conclusion that catnip is a drug for cats and, in consequence, refuse to use the substance on their cats.This explains why cats become instantly loving and even euphoric when exposed to catnip. Click To Tweet
Please note that catnip has different effects on cats when they eat the plant than it does when they simply come in contact with it. However, if the cat eats the catnip, it will also inhale the nepetalactone and the entire string of effects will fall into place. As for the effects of catnip when eaten, these are mainly digestive and they are beneficial.
Is catnip a drug for cats?
Certainly not! While catnip may have a euphoric effect on cats, there are some characteristics of its effects that make it extremely different than what we consider drugs to be. Here are the main reasons why catnip should not be considered a drug:
1. A cat’s response to catnip is predictable
While humans respond very differently to drugs, which is one of the things that makes them so dangerous, cats all respond to catnip the same way. They all exhibit behavior similar to that of females in heat – they rub their heads against the plant, they meow, they cuddle.
2. The duration of the cat’s response to catnip is also predictable
Another reason why drugs are dangerous for humans is the fact that you cannot predict the duration of their effects. This differs from one person to another, even when exposed to the same substance, and it also depends on other physiological characteristics. As for catnip in cats, its effects only last for 10 minutes, after which the cat will be immune to it for half an hour.
3. Catnip is not addictive
Their ability to cause addiction is probably the most dangerous part about drugs. However, this type of response has not been noticed in cats. They will interact with the catnip and some will respond to it for the 10-minute period and then become immune to it for 30 minutes. Moreover, during these 10 minutes, they will exhibit the same type of behavior. If the catnip is then removed, they will not crave it or display any signs of addictive behavior such as withdrawal.
4. Cats cannot overdose on catnip
The effects of catnip will be visible when cats inhale the nepetalactone, and, as mentioned above, it will only be active for 10 minutes. But even if the cat eats the catnip, it will not overdose on it. Due to the different properties that catnip has when eaten, it may cause a mild sedative effect, as well as a digestive effect, none of which pose any danger to the cat. Among the darkest scenarios is an episode of diarrhea.But even if the cat eats the catnip, it will not overdose on it. Click To Tweet
Even if catnip is often marketed as a drug for cats, often called cat crack or marijuana, it bears no similarities to the effects of such substances. In spite of the poor marketing used for such products, catnip can have a lot of positive effects on a cat, making it a worthy tool for many cat owners.
Cats and Catnip – Does it work the same on all cats?
Yes and no. According to modern research on the effects of catnip, not all cats are wired to have a response to the plant. In fact, only 60% of cats have a response to it at all. However, the cats that do respond to it, all exhibit the same behavior.
The theorized explanation behind the 60% effect of catnip is that the response is conditioned by some genetic traits. There are some large felines that are also sensitive to the plant. Therefore, the ability to exhibit a response to this plant is hereditary.
Another important factor in the cat’s response is age. Kittens are not sensitive to catnip until they begin to reach sexual maturity at about 6 months of age. Since the response to catnip will lead to an artificial sexual response, the cat must be mature sexually to be able to produce the proper chemicals.
Scientists have also discovered that some cats will lose their ability to respond to catnip throughout their lives. This may depend on various factors affecting the cat’s olfactory apparatus, as well as its nervous and endocrine system, all of which are involved in the process.
The other properties of catnip
Aside from the neurological response that the nepetalactone in catnip causes in cats, this plant has a lot more properties that worthy of your attention. Nepeta cataria is also rich in other volatile oils, sterols, tannins, and acids. The plant is usually used to make infusions and extracts for its following effects:
- antitussive – active against coughs (caused by the volatile oils in catnip)
- astringent – causes constriction of the tissues (caused by the tannins in catnip)
- anti-catarrhal – reduced inflammation in tissues (caused by the tannins in catnip)
- sedative – causes relaxing effect on the nervous system
- slightly stimulant – gives a boost to the nervous system
- stomachic – promotes appetite and assists digestion
- tonic – increases physical and mental tone
- favors the elimination of intestinal gas
How can catnip be used in cats?
Considering the effect it has on cats, catnip can be used in a lot of different ways on cats. Here are only some ideas that should put things into perspective about this amazing plant:
As a stimulant
When cats are exposed to catnip, they are immensely stimulated, which is extremely healthy. You can use catnip toys to help your cats exercise or simply to get them to engage more enthusiastically in your play sessions.When cats are exposed to catnip, they are immensely stimulated, which is extremely healthy. Click To Tweet
As a relief
After your cat goes through the catnip effect, it will be left feeling relaxed. This is as much of a goal when using catnip as the excitement phase, as the overall experience is positive for the cat.
As a tool for training and education
The effect that catnip has on cats can be used as an element in educating your pet. Keep in mind that will not work on pre-pubescent cats, but it will be useful to make certain spaces, toys, beds, etc. extremely interesting. It can also be used as a reward during training.
The Main Types of Catnip Products
If you want to use catnip correctly, the first thing you need to know is the type of products you can find the substance in. Here are the main type of catnip products available on the market so that you have an idea of what you will have to choose from:If you want to use catnip correctly, the first thing you need to know is the type of products you can find the substance in. Click To Tweet
1. Dried Catnip
One of the most common types of catnip is the dried plant. Organic catnip is available on the market and can be used directly. The volatile oils in the catnip are still active even if the plant is dried, which is why it will have an effect on the cat.
How to use it – simply sprinkle a bit of catnip in the place you want your cat to come and it will play with it there. You should keep in mind that it will inevitably make a mess, but since the catnip is dried, you can clean it up easily with a vacuum. Your cat might eat some of the catnip, but will not be in any harm. Moreover, if the catnip is organic, you can rest assured that there are no preservatives or dangerous substances in it.
2. Catnip seeds/ Catnip sprouts
Catnip is also sold as sprouts or seeds that you can plant for yourself to get the green sprouts that your cat will love. By having the green plant, it will be that more appealing to your cat.
How to use it – You should keep the catnip pot somewhere safe, where your cat can’t chew on it. Use a pair of scissors to cut a bit of the sprouts and give it to your cat to love. As for the dried plant, it will make a bit of a mess, but not leave any stains, and your cat is also going to eat a part of the plant. Since you will be the one planting and taking care of the catnip, you can know for sure that it is completely safe for your cat.
- From The Field Grow Your Own Catnip Plant Kit
- Priscilla’s Grow Your Own Catnip Kit
- Cat-About by MiracleCorp Gimborn Single Cat Grass Plus
3. Catnip Toys
From catnip bags to actual catnip balls, there are a lot of catnip toys available on the market. These are made with dried catnip and the main advantage they offer is that your cat can play them without eating the catnip or spreading it all over your floor. When the cat plays with the toy, it releases the volatile oil in it, which starts out the expected effect.
How to use it – If your cat is among the 60% catnip-responsive cats, then these toys are bound to become instant favorites. These are easier to use than dried catnip because there is no mess to clean up after using them. On the other hand, they become inefficient after a while, when the volatile oil in the catnip is not active anymore.
4. Catnip Treats
When cats display their love of catnip, they often eat it as well. This is why there are a lot of cats that enjoy eating catnip treats. These usually include meat as well and use the catnip to lure in the cats for this treat.
How to use it – These catnip treats can be used during training sessions or when cats display a loss of appetite. But while the catnip may be organic and safe for your cat, you should make sure that the rest of the ingredients are also good. Finding natural treats for your cat should always be a priority.
5. Catnip Spray
Catnip spray includes the essential element in the plant which generates the desired effect, the nepetalactone. When sprayed on a surface, it will make the cat come directly towards it.
How to use it – Use the catnip spray on the surface you want your cat drawn to and expect it to cuddle it a lot. This spray could come in handy during training sessions when you want your cat to go to certain places in favor of others, or play with specific toys.
Does catnip work on humans?
This is yet another question that a lot of cat owners have on their minds. If catnip is so efficient on cats, then could it have similar effects on people as well? And will using it lead to some unwanted euphoric stages? The answer is no. If you have catnip around the house for you feline companion, it will not have any effect on you. The explanation is very simple.
The anatomy and physiology of the feline olfactory apparatus and nervous system are significantly different to those of humans. The nepetalactone in catnip will not bind to the human olfactory receptors in the same way it does to the feline ones, which means that it will not have the same neurological effects. But this does not mean that catnip has no effect at all on humans.If you have catnip around the house for you feline companion, it will not have any effect on you. Click To Tweet
Humans have a history with catnip
Long before catnip was used on pet cats, it was used by humans. For over 400 years, the plant was used for its other properties. It was used to make tea, it was smoked, and even chewed because it has a mild sedative effect on humans. It was also thought to be a cure for colic in babies (due to its digestive properties) and even a cure for hysteria in women (due to its sedative effect).
There was even a period in the 1960’s when it became very popular because it was thought to be a hallucinogenic drug. That was when scientists started looking into the effects of the plant on humans and demonstrated that human anatomy makes it impossible for people to respond to it the way that cats do.
Catnip is a very useful mosquito repellent
One property of catnip that has been undisputed throughout the years is its effects as a mosquito repellent. The volatile oils it contains make it extremely efficient against mosquitoes and other insects. So, if you decide to plant some catnip for your cat, you may get some added benefits along the way.
As you can see, the effects that catnip has on cats are certainly worth observing. Have you ever tried it on your cat? Is your cat among the 60% catnip-responsive ones or is it immune to its temptations? Tell us about your experience with catnip in the comment section below.