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What does catnip do to cats?

Looking for a way to add some excitement to your cat's day? Why not try introducing them to catnip? This herb can turn even the most relaxed kitty into a playful and energetic one. Today, our New York vets will discuss the effects of catnip on our feline friends and how to use it properly.

What is catnip?

Catnip, also known as Catmint, is a member of the mint family. This fragrant and resilient herb is originally from Europe and Asia. But is now widely grown in North America too. Its heart-shaped leaves, small white or lavender flowers, and ability to thrive in low-water conditions make it a popular choice for many gardens.

What does catnip do to cats?

When cats come into contact with catnip, they often exhibit an interesting reaction. You may notice your feline friend sniffing, licking, rubbing, purring, rolling, or playing joyfully. Many pet owners are surprised to see their usually indifferent cat become fascinated by catnip.

The effects of catnip vary from cat to cat. Some cats become more playful, others relaxed and dreamy, and some display an increased interest in scratching and chewing.

The effects of catnip are temporary and usually last for about 15-30 minutes. After a reaction to catnip, your cat may sit quietly and relax as the effects wear off. During this time, your cat becomes temporarily immune to the herb's effects.

How does catnip work?

Catnip contains a vital ingredient known as nepetalactone, a type of terpene, present in the plant's stem and leaves. When cats smell nepetalactone, it activates specific brain chemicals associated with mood and happiness. It's important to note that human brains do not respond to catnip in the same manner as cat brains, due to physiological differences.

Researchers believe that nepetalactone creates its mesmerizing effects by mimicking pheromones, These are chemicals that are crucial for feline communication, especially during mating rituals.

Do all cats respond to catnip?

While some cats react to catnip, others appear to be immune to the spell of nepetalactone. Researchers estimate that about 30% of our feline friends do not respond to catnip, possibly due to a genetically inherited trait passed down from parents. 

The researchers also noted that kittens and senior cats are less likely to be affected by catnip than adult cats. This means that the response to catnip, which often includes behaviors like rolling, rubbing, and increased playfulness, may be less pronounced or even absent in kittens and senior cats. 

Should you Boost your Cat's Diet with Catnip?

Catnip is less likely to influence a cat's eating behavior, but it should not serve as an appetite stimulant or depressant. Its mellowing effect can potentially reduce appetite in some cases. If you seek to modify your cat's appetite, consult your veterinarian for guidance.

Can catnip be dangerous for cats?

Catnip is considered to be a safe and non-addictive treat for our feline family members to enjoy. Most cats will walk away when they have had enough. As such, there is no recommended safe dose of the herb.

There have been rare cases of cats overindulging in catnip. However, mild stomach upset is the only known adverse effect. And If your kitty enjoys frequent catnip adventures, they will likely build a tolerance to the herb's effect, gradually diminishing their response to it.

Catnip is safe for cats, but like any treat or enrichment item, it's best to use it in moderation and under supervision, as veterinarians recommend using it about once every few weeks.

Should I introduce catnip to my cat?

Many cats can safely enjoy the effects of catnip. Since the plant is non-toxic, it may be worth trying with your kitty to see how they respond. However, if you are unsure whether catnip is suitable for your feline family member, it's best to speak to your vet. They can provide guidance regarding catnip use.

Do people respond to catnip?

Although catnip can produce amusing effects on cats, it does not impact human emotions or well-being.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. If you are concerned about your pet's health, contact your veterinarian immediately for diagnosis and treatment.

If you have any questions or concerns about catnip and its effect on your cat, don't hesitate to reach out to our New York veterinarians.

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