What is catnip? We all know for sure that cats go crazy for it but what makes up this treat and why does it have such a strong impact on our kitties?
“Catnip is actually an herb in the mint family and is related to spearmint and oregano,” Dr. Judy Morgan DVM tells Paw Culture. The crushed leaves or oils of catnip spark energetic and sensory playtime for cats. In fact, it’s so powerful that all of the animals in the cat family— not just domesticated cats— have the ability to respond to catnip.
The essential oil in catnip is called nepetalactone and it’s what stimulates your cat once they smell it, triggering those happy, feel-good pheromones. The result usually involves behavior characteristic of female sexual behavior- sniffing, chewing, rolling and rubbing.
Your cat may also bat at the catnip, which is a characteristic of play behavior, or kick at it, which is associated with predatory behavior. “The chemosensory reaction is mediated by the main (smell) olfactory system of the cat brain,” says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, staff doctor at the Animal Medical Center in NYC.
Aside from motivating and exciting your cat to play, catnip has some other useful purposes, too. The herb is an antioxidant that has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. “There is also a significant study conducted by medicinal entomologists that reports catnip repels stable flies, dust mites, mosquitoes and deer ticks,” says Dr. Hohenhaus.
Catnip will lose its effect if it becomes stale, so store it in an airtight baggie or container in the freezer. “Purchase fresh catnip if you really want to give your cat an entertaining time,” suggests Dr. Morgan.
Not every feline has the same response to catnip. Kittens and elderly cats are less likely to have a strong reaction to the treat. “I would hypothesize some cats lack a receptor in their olfactory system or brain and that’s why they don’t respond,” says Dr. Hohenhaus.
Whether or not your pet craves catnip, like any treat you shouldn’t give them too much. Giving catnip in moderation will help avoid overstimulation and keep them from losing interest in it.
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