Some cats literally seem to go crazy for catnip – they meow and roll in it, they rub their cheeks and jowls into it, they can find it in a wrapped Christmas gift, they may prance around or they may simply appear to get high from it!
What’s the big deal about catnip, anyway?
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria), is a member of the Mint family of aromatic herbs. It is a common aromatic herb of the high deserts of North America, and was naturalized in Canada from it’s indigenous roots in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean.
- Catnip has been used in herbal remedies on humans since at least the 15th century. In fact, catnip tea was the most commonly consumed herbal beverage in Europe prior to the importation of teas from the orient.
- A chemical compound called nepetalactone, the primary constituent in the essential oil of catnip, induces a harmless physiological reaction in some cats.
- The response to catnip is an inherited “autosomal dominant trait” — in other words, it is genetic and your kitten or cat must have inherited the appropriate genes.
Interesting Catnip Fact: “Cats which have a genome originating in geographical areas where catnip is not indigenous, like Southeast Asia, typically do not respond to catnip.”
Not only must your kitten or cat have inherited the right genes, they must be old enough to respond to catnip’s lure. Approximately 15% of all cats do not respond to catnip. Cats which are less than 6 months old (not sexually mature) almost never respond to catnip regardless of their genes.
Catnip is extremely common in the wild throughout the Eastern USA, Midwest and into Washington state. There are millions of plants within this ecosystem. Catnip prefers to grow in dry, semi arid places, and can be found along hedge rows and fence lines. Also catnip is abundant along railway lines and within abandoned waste places, like old buildings, and dump sites. This leads to an obvious caution —
NEVER BUY WILD CRAFTED CATNIP UNLESS IT COMES FROM A TRUSTED PROFESSIONAL HERB COLLECTOR!
Waste places and railway lines are NO place to collect material for ingestion. Creosote is commonly used to weather treat railway ties, and leachate from the ties will appear in any biomass growing along the line. If a catnip product is acquired from an unknown source, or is not certified organic, it MAY contain pesticides or other plant material which is not catnip, and these could prove harmful to your 4-legged friends..
To refresh a toy, you can just “marinate” it in a sealed ziplock bag with fresh catnip, or you can spray it with a touch of catnip oil. You don’t need to give much catnip to a susceptible kitty <please see attached video> before they become affected.
2 of our older cats (now deceased) – a tabby and a black domestic short haired cat – loved catnip. When we gave them new catnip toys, they would roll about on them, rub their jowls on them and attack them with all 4 feet. It was pretty humorous to watch! They would revisit a favorite toy for quite some time before the allure (aka the catnip) wore off. It was wonderful exercise for them and the black cat would even get all dreamy after a while.
Neither of our 2 younger cats care much for it. They will sniff a fresh toy and maybe toss it about for a bit, but then they walk away and ignore it. Once in a while Munchkin will sleep on top of a new toy, but Muffy likes to pretend that she is too dignified. They won’t roll in it or react predictably. Neither of them are as much for play as the dominant cats were. Perhaps it’s genetics, perhaps it’s their place in our homes as the “second” cats. Whatever the reason, it’s interesting to have seen the difference in reactions in all 4 of them!