Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Catnip!

Catnip is a perennial herb and member of the Mint family that is well known for it’s ability to get cat’s “high”.

The main active ingredient which causes this is an essential oil called nepetalactone, which can be found in the leaves & stem of the plant.

When a cat encounters catnip, it usually sniffs it, rubs against it, licks it & finally eats it. It’s actually the sniffing that gets produces the high, it’s believed that cats eat catnip to bruise the catnip & therefore release more of the nepetalactone. The high produced will usually last between five & ten minutes. When sniffed, catnip will stimulate a cat, however when eaten it can act as a sedative.

Around 50% of cats are affected by catnip, and those who are, are affected to differing degrees. I have seen one cat who drools & rolls on the floor, another one who becomes very hyperactive, a third becomes aggressive, and picks fights with the other cats.

Interestingly, kittens younger than 8 weeks old aren’t able to enjoy it’s effects. In fact, they show an aversion to it.  The response to catnip appears to be inherited as an autosomal gene. It’s not just domesticated cats who enjoy the effects of catnip, many lot of wild species also enjoy it and they can detect 1 part in a billion in the air.

Nepetalactone causes a hallucinogenic effect. The response to catnip is via the olfactory system with a region called the Vomero Nasal Organ which is not present in humans.

Catnip is not harmful to your cat. They won’t overdose on it.  Most cats know when they’ve had enough & will refuse any further offers.

Catnip is usually fairly easy to grow, you should be able to purchase the plant from your local garden centre. It likes light sandy soil, and grows best in full sun. Most pet shops either sell catnip toys, or dried catnip. When storing catnip, put it in an air tight container, in the fridge or freezer.

This post was originally written in 2012