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Catnip or Nepeta Cataria is a herb that belongs to the same plant family as mint. It releases a feline attractant oil, nepetalactone, the scent of which produces a mild euphoric effect on cats. Cats bite the leaves of the plant to release more of this oil. The effects last about fifteen minutes. The plant is found all over the Middle East, Europe, Central Asia and regions of China. It is a mid-sized green leafy plant with white flowers. A pet store visit could yield you “raw” catnip i.e. essentially a dried and processed version of the actual plant. It is often found as an ingredient in cat toys or infused into sprays. The plant’s effect on a cat can be likened to ours when introduced to a mind-altering drug.
History of catnip
Catnip has a long history. It is thought that Ancient Egyptians used it, as they domesticated cats. The Romans used it in medicines. It was introduced in America sometime around the 18th century.
Some lions, tigers and other members of the cat family are susceptible to the effects of catnip too. Then again, there are some cats that don’t register the same effects. Catnip affects different cats differently.
It is mostly used as a sedative or a training tool where catnip is given as reward to a well-behaved cat. It can be used as an alternative for a traditional food treat.
Catnip can be used to calm down cats when hyperactive, scared or overwhelmed.
Word of caution – only use catnip in sparing amounts as it can weaken or entirely kill your cat’s sensitivity to the chemical.
How safe is catnip?
Catnip is quite harmless and not addictive in nature, contrary to popular belief. However, excess usage can cause diarrhea and vomiting, Since catnip can work as an aphrodisiac, it has the ability to make male cats aggressive. Monitor your cat for any change in behavior and stop giving them catnip, if this happens. The best practice is to introduce a small amount of catnip to your cat, see how they react and then introduce more accordingly.
How to administer catnip?
Buy a refillable toy which you can fill yourself with catnip instead of sealed toys which use sharp stems which could injure your pet if bitten. You may also choose to buy loose leaves. You could choose to grow it yourself too.
Catnip only affects kittens over the age of six months. Cats use their extraordinary sense of smell to sniff in the reactive oil that sedates them/makes them euphoric. It can be used as a wonderful training tool but cat owners should be careful of using it in excess.