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The Fundamentals of Catnip

March 15, 2019

Catnip—it’s your feline friend’s favorite plant. You may have even tried out catnip on your cat, or given her toys with catnip in them. Learn more about your cat’s preferred indulgence as your Hudson Valley, NY veterinarian elaborates below:

What Kind of Plant is Catnip?

Catnip is an herb, closely related to the mint or basil found in your garden. In the wild, the plant is a leafy green and stands a few feet tall; it contains white flowers with characteristic purple spots. In a pet store, you’ll find a processed version of that wild plant that looks almost like the crushed oregano or thyme you might have in your spice cabinet. This is “raw” catnip, but you can also purchase toys, sprays, and other products with catnip infused into them.

How Do Cats React?

There are several ways that your cat might react to the herb. Some cats become very excited and run around frantically for a few moments, perhaps rubbing their faces and bodies vigorously into the area where raw catnip was sprinkled. Other cats simply stretch out in a state of euphoria!

What Causes the Reaction?

The oils of the plant’s stem and leaves contain a chemical substance known as nepetalactone. It’s the cause of the reaction you’ll see in your cat. Nepetalactone causes a chemical response in your cat’s brain, triggering the same area of the brain that is responsible for sexual stimulation. Many experts believe that catnip acts as a sort of feline aphrodisiac!

The reaction to catnip will typically only last a few minutes. “Raw” catnip tends to be the most potent form of the herb, and will usually cause the most prolonged reactions.

Is There Any Risk?

No, catnip does not pose any risk to your cat whatsoever. The reaction that occurs in response to the nepetalactone chemical is entirely harmless. There’s no need to worry about giving your cat catnip as often as you’d like—there’s no way for your cat to become addicted or overdose on the herb.

Why Doesn’t My Cat React to Catnip?

Have you found that your cat doesn’t seem to react to catnip at all? Don’t worry; your cat is perfectly fine! Many cats—nearly half—don’t possess a specific gene, inherited from their parents, that allows them to feel catnip’s effects.

Our Tips on the Fundamentals of Catnip

How do cats typically react to catnip?

Cats often exhibit varied reactions to catnip: some may become hyperactive, running and rolling around, while others might relax and stretch out in bliss. They may also rub or sniff the area where catnip is present. These behaviors reflect the stimulating effect catnip has on their senses.

What chemical in catnip causes cats to react, and how does it affect them?

The chemical nepetalactone in catnip triggers a reaction in cats. It binds to their nasal receptors, mimicking pheromones and stimulating sensory neurons. This leads to behaviors like euphoria, playfulness, or relaxation, typically lasting a few minutes. It’s a harmless, natural response.

How long does the reaction to catnip usually last, and which form is most potent?

The reaction to catnip typically lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. After this, cats usually become temporarily immune to its effects. “Raw” catnip, in its crushed leaf form, is often the most potent, eliciting more substantial and more immediate reactions than other forms.

Is catnip safe for cats, and can they become addicted or overdose on it?

Catnip is safe for cats and poses no risk of addiction or overdose. Its effects are natural and harmless, causing temporary behavioral changes like euphoria or playfulness. Overindulgence may lead to mild stomach upset, but this is rare and not serious. Enjoyment without health concerns!

Why do some cats not react to catnip at all?

Some cats don’t react to catnip due to genetics. The sensitivity to catnip is inherited and about 50% of cats lack the gene that triggers a response. It’s not a health concern if your cat doesn’t react; it simply means they don’t have the receptors affected by catnip’s active compound.

Does your feline friend need veterinary attention? Call your Hudson Valley, NY animal hospital.