Catnip is a member of the genus Nepeta, which encompasses about 250 species of flowering plants that are native to Africa, Asia, and Europe but have since managed to establish themselves in North America as well. Most of them are herbaceous perennials. However, there are some herbaceous annuals as well. The bulk of the genus Nepeta aren’t particularly notable. Instead, it is no exaggeration to say that catnip and similar plants would be the genus Nepeta’s single biggest claim to fame. In any case, catnip is specifically Nepeta cataria. However, catnip, catmint, catwort, catswort, and similar terms are sometimes used to refer to the genus Nepeta as a whole, particularly other members that seem to share its most notable characteristic. Of course, this would be catnip’s enormous attraction for about 50 to 70 percent of the adult cats that can be found out there. Something that can be explained by their nepetalactone content. In other respects, catnip is somewhat interesting but not particularly so. For example, it is native to southern Europe, eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and certain parts of China but has since become naturalized in northern Europe, North America, and New Zealand. Similarly, while catnip is most notable because of its power over most cats, it has been cultivated for human use as well. Sometimes, the plant served as a garden ornament, which came with the bonus effects of repelling flies and mosquitoes while being resistant to deer as well as tolerant of drought. Other times, the plant was used in traditional medicine for humans, though this use has faded for the most part because of the rise of modern medicine. As such, catnip tends to be best-known by interested individuals because of its power over most cats. Everything else can’t hope to compare.
What Are the Effects of Catnip on Cats?
Catnip seems to make most cats happy, relaxed, and affectionate. As a result, they have been known to rub the plant, paw the plant, lick the plant, chewing the plant, and so on and so forth. Furthermore, cats can show symptoms such as drooling, purring, and sleepiness when they become affected by catnip. Having said that, it is important to note that some cats can show other kinds of behavior as well. To name an example, some cats have been known to become anxious when they come into contact with catnip. Meanwhile, other cats have been known to become playful or even outright aggressive, with the result that they will growl, bite, and even scratch. Of course, it is important to note that a significant percentage of cats don’t react to catnip. It is possible that they are just too young to be affected by the stuff because cats can’t be affected until they are at least three months old. Similarly, it is possible that they have already been affected by the stuff, meaning that it will take some time before they can be affected by the stuff once more. On top of this, a lot of cats just lack the ability to be affected by catnip, which seems to be an inherited characteristic.
As mentioned earlier, catnip has this power over most cats because of nepetalactone. Due to this, interested individuals should have no problem guessing that other members of the genus Nepeta produce the stuff as well, which is useful because it serves to protect them by repelling herbivorous insects. Curiously, nepetalactone is produced by aphids as well, though in their case, nepetalactone serves as sex pheromones for them. Regardless, cats are affected by nepetalactone through their nasal mucosa. After which, the stuff can reach their brain, thus resulting in the aforementioned effects for the animals that can be affected in this way. For comparison, the oral consumption of catnip doesn’t do anything for cats because that isn’t how the relevant chemical can reach the relevant part of the body.
Curiously, catnip can affect other feline species as well. In particular, it is interesting to note that even bigger cat species have very consistent reactions, which make it very clear that felines are felines. Of course, those bigger cat species don’t necessarily react the same way as domestic cats. For example, both bobcats and lynxes are known to be fond of catnip, so much so that the latter sees frequent use in products that are meant to lure them out. In contrast, big cats showed a notable difference. Lions were very similar to their household counterparts whereas a lot of tigers showed either no response or an incomplete response. As for jaguars, leopards, and snow leopards, they had very strong responses to the stuff.
Moving on, if cat owners are concerned about their cat showing no response to catnip, there are a number of other plants that have similar effects on our feline companions. First, there is valerian, which is a herb that sees use for a wide range of purposes. For example, it sees use for flavoring. Similarly, it has been used as a sedative as well as a pain reliever. On top of these, the roots and leaves of valerian are often used as a cat attractant in lieu of catnip. Second, there is silver vine. This is a species of kiwifruit, though one that is much less famous than its most famous counterpart that is cultivated so much for human consumption. Once again, silver vine has been used for food, for medicine, and for other purposes. However, its most relevant use in this context would be how it can induce euphoria in cats. Third, there is the Tatarian honeysuckle that comes from Siberia as well as various parts of eastern Asia but has since managed to become an invasive species throughout much of North America. Originally, it was supposed to be an ornamental plant. Unfortunately, the Tatarian honeysuckle proved to be very good at working its way into vulnerable ecosystems where it can become common enough to choke out its native counterparts. Apparently, this plant is bad for humans but can be surprisingly attractive to our feline companions. Combined, this means that even if a cat isn’t affected by catnip, chances are good that the same cat can be affected by one or more of these alternatives. Something that interested individuals should keep in mind.
What Should Cat Owners Keep in Mind About the Use of Catnip?
Here are some things that cat owners should keep in mind about the use of catnip.
It Has More Than One Use
Catnip is best-known for being a cat treat. Essentially, it can provide cats with some excitement, which can make for a pleasing diversion from a not particularly exciting routine. However, it has more than one use, which interested individuals might want to keep in mind. To name an example, catnip often makes cats feel happier. As a result, it is very common for cat owners to sprinkle some dried catnip on something that they want their cat to take an interest in. Sometimes, this might be a favorite cat toy. Other times, there are cat owners who have reported good results from sprinkling dried catnip on a new cat bed as a way of convincing a cat to become used to it.
Use in Small Doses
For starters, cat owners should use catnip in small doses. Our feline companions have an excellent sense of smell. As a result, cats don’t need a lot of catnip for the catnip to take effect. Anymore than that would be a waste of catnip, particularly since it is normal for cats to experience a reaction to the catnip before losing their ability to do so for a few hours’ time. Besides this, cats don’t seem to have too bad of a response when they are over-exposed to catnip. However, it is still a good idea to limit their exposure to catnip lest they become desensitized to it. In more practical terms, don’t make catnip a daily thing. Instead, make it a weekly thing at most so that it will retain its status as a fun treat for the cat rather than something that is too routine.
Fresh Catnip Is Stronger
It is interesting to note that fresh catnip is stronger than dried catnip. As a result, if cat owners aren’t getting the desired effect by using dried catnip, they might want to see if fresh catnip is more suitable for what they have in mind. Interested individuals can buy fresh catnip if they want it. However, some people might want to try growing the stuff on their own. Fortunately, catnip is on the hardier side of things, meaning that it is relatively easy to handle by interested individuals. Having said that, they should make sure that their catnip is grown in either a pot or a planter if they choose to do so. This is because catnip can be an invasive species, meaning that they don’t want to give it any chance to grow in places where it doesn’t belong.
There Are Catnip-Infused Products
Interested individuals can get either fresh catnip or dried catnip. However, they have another option as well, which would be getting cat toys and accessories that have already been infused with catnip. Generally speaking, this practice should be made clear on the packaging for the catnip-infused product. Failing that, it is possible that interested individuals will be able to pick up on it by smelling the catnip on the catnip-infused product. Given the way that cats react to catnip, it should come as no surprise to learn that they might become more fond of cat-infused products, thus causing them to spend more time with these.
Don’t Give Catnip to Aggressive Cats
Different cats have different personalities. As a result, it makes sense that there are some cats that are more aggressive than others. Apparently, it is a bad idea to give catnip to these cats. It is possible that they will become more relaxed because of it. However, it is also possible that they will become more aggressive because of a loss of inhibitions. As for the cats that become aggressive when they are exposed to catnip, well, it is a good idea to avoid giving them catnip as well.
Don’t Force Catnip on Cats
On a related note, some cats just don’t like catnip very much. Due to this, if they don’t react well to catnip, they don’t react well to catnip. Forcing catnip on them might just irritate them. For that matter, buying catnip and catnip-infused products under these circumstances is a serious waste of money because there is no point to it. As mentioned earlier, there are alternatives to catnip, so it might be worthwhile to look into them. Failing that, it is important to remember that while catnip can be fun for cats, it is by no means necessary for cats’ health and happiness. In other words, there is nothing wrong with a cat if that same cat fails to react to any of these alternatives.
Ultimately, if interested individuals are planning to make a significant change to the way that they care for their cat, they might want to consult their veterinarian on the issue. Something might be fine for cats in general. However, there is no guarantee that same thing will be fine for a particular cat because different cats can react to the same thing in very different ways in much the same manner as humans. To be sure, a veterinarian with in-depth knowledge about said cat should be the best source of recommendations for cat owners who want nothing but the best for their feline companions. For that matter, said professionals can be a very good source of information about the best way to make use of various things. Something that can make for an excellent supplement to what interested individuals have figured out on their own as well as what interested individuals have picked up from other places.