What is Catnip and How Does It Work?

I’m sure you’ve heard of the herb catnip, which is a member of the mint family. But did you know that not every cat likes it? The feline reaction to catnip is genetic, and not every cat is born with the catnip gene.



Young kittens don’t react to it, but if they’re going to react it will be when they’re a little older. When cats are affected by it, it works like a stimulant, causing the cat to act rather silly and happy. You can buy catnip toys or bags of fresh or dried catnip. There are also mats for kitty to lie on that have an opening into which you can place some catnip. It’s also possible to grow your own fresh catnip on your windowsill or in your garden. It starter plants are for sale in many pet supply stores.

Give your cat a catnip toy every few days or once a week, and then put it away when she’s finished playing so it becomes a special treat. That includes both fresh and dried loose catnip, and catnip toys. The immediate effect is seen in a minute or two, and it probably takes an hour or two for the cat to return to a normal state—although she will appear so much sooner.

Toys that are filled with catnip will stay fresher if you put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. Also, squeezing the toy will release some of the scent, which likely releases a chemical that reacts in the cat’s brain. The scent is also released when kitty plays with the toy, kicking and biting it and even rolling on the toy.

You can also sprinkle catnip at the base of kitty’s scratching post to encourage her to use it. It won’t hurt if she eats a bit. Catnip is also used as an enticement for cardboard scratching pads to attract a kitty’s attention. There is also a catnip spray that you can use on the scratching post to encourage your cat to check it out.

If your cat becomes overly aroused, remove the toy and replace it with something else. In the future, keep play sessions with catnip toys shorter so kitty won’t reach that overaroused stage. Don’t let your kitty reach that state of arousal. All good things in moderation.

While catnip definitely has an effect on those cats who respond to it, it is not a drug. You don’t have to be afraid of giving it to your cat. There’s no addiction involved. It does alter her mood, but it’s not dangerous like a drug would be. It is simply another thing to stimulate her. Just don’t overuse it, and it will always be something special.


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