By: | | Cats

Everyone knows that cats love catnip, but what’s really going on when your cat starts “rolling”?

Catnip is a member of the mint family. The stem and leaves contain nepetalactone, an oily substance that seems to emulate feline pheromones.

Nepetalactone acts as a stimulant when your cat sniffs it, and they may react by rolling around, drooling, meowing, purring, and running around. It’s been likened to the effects of marijuana or LSD on humans. Your cat may also chew on the dried or fresh plant. When eaten, it acts as a depressant, causing your cat to “mellow out.”

Is Catnip Safe?

There are no negative side effects that cats can get from catnip. After five to fifteen minutes, they typically lose interest, and may return to it after a few hours. Catnip toys tend to lose their aroma after a few weeks. You can purchase dried catnip in bulk, or grow it in a small planter in your home.

It is also safe for your cat to eat catnip, and you can even use it to make homemade cat treats. The sedative nature of catnip when ingested makes it a great choice for preparing your cat for a potentially stressful event like a trip to the veterinarian.

Catnip is non-addictive and your cat cannot overdose on it. However, they could suffer from mild digestive upset if they eat too much. Their reaction is typically more pronounced if you only allow your cat to have it every few weeks.

Catnip may even have beneficial uses for humans. Some people brew and drink it to relieve headaches and insomnia and to elicit menstruation. It’s safe to drink, though the pharmaceutical benefits have not been widely studied. Humans cannot get “high” off of catnip, nor can dogs.

Creative Ways to Use Catnip with Your Cat

There are many ways for your cat to enjoy catnip. It can be fresh or dried. Your cat can even sip on their very own cat wine, a beverage infused with catnip, adorably packaged in a miniature wine bottle and labeled “Pinot Meow.”

You can rub catnip on a new scratching post to train your cat to use it instead of scratching the furniture. You can also put it in your cat’s new bed to encourage them to start using it.

Many cat toys are embedded with dried catnip, though they will lose their potency after a while. You can occasionally “marinate” your cat’s toys in a plastic bag or container of catnip to refresh them, or even rip open the seams, insert more catnip, and sew the toy back up to freshen it.

Why Doesn’t Catnip Work on My Cat?

Catnip sensitivity is genetic. Only approximately 50-70% of cats inherit the gene that causes them to react to it. Big cats like lions and tigers sometimes even carry the gene, and love to roll around in it – they are, after all, giant kitties.

Young kittens do not develop catnip sensitivity until about six months of age. So, if your cat is very young, you may simply need to try again in a few months.

Alternatives to Catnip

If your cat is one of those who doesn’t respond to catnip (or event if they do), there are other herbs they may enjoy.

Silver Vine

Silver vine (Actinidia polygama) is a climbing plant native to mountainous regions of China and Japan. It affects cats similarly to the way catnip does, but the effect comes from two substances in the plant, actinidine and dihydroactinidiolide, instead of catnip’s nepetalactone. Studies have shown that more cats are actually responsive to silver vine than to catnip—80% of cats responsive to silver vine, and 75% of cats who aren’t responsive to catnip are responsive to silver vine. Silver vine can be given to cats in various forms, including as a powder or in toys or as sticks for your cat to chew and gnaw.

Valerian Root

Valerian root has a calming effect on humans, but it has the opposite effect on cats, often causing hyper-excitability similar to catnip. About 50% of cats are responsive to valerian root. You can find valerian root for cats are coarsely-chopped pieces to sprinkle around for your cat to roll in or purchase valerian root filled cat toys. But do not give your cat valerian root supplements intended for humans, as they might be too strong for your cat or contain other ingredients that are harmful to cats.

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