What exactly is Catnip and why do some cats love it and others have no reaction?
Catnip, or Nepeta Cataria, is a perennial plant (meaning plants that generally live for more than two years, returning even after deep freezes like in our current Illinois climate) and is a member of the mint family. The potency of your homegrown catnip will depend on the climate and maintenance routines that it’s grown in, but organic catnip has proven much more potent than the basic store bought variety. Although growing catnip is usually done for our feline companions, it can also be used in soothing teas! Concentrated nepetalactone also makes for a powerful mosquito repellent, but unfortunately only lasts for a few hours.
Catnip is best known for attracting cats due to the oil in the plants leaves and stems called nepetalactone. Some believe this triggers the receptors that mimic feline pheromones, acting like an aphrodisiac.
Catnip can effect cats two ways; by smelling it or eating it. When the catnip is smelled, it acts like a stimulant which causes your cat to get the “crazies”; rolling around on the catnip, purring, salivating and rubbing all over it. When eaten, it produces a calming, more mellow sedative effect. It is unlikely that a cat would ever “overdose” by eating too much catnip, but in large quantities it can cause stomach irritation so best to only allow small amounts, especially if your cat has a sensitive stomach.
Catnip is NON-ADDICTIVE and usually the behavior usually only lasts 10-15 minutes on average. They can become immune to the effects after exposure but it is noted that after about 30 min – 2 hours this fades and the fun can resume =)
Unfortunately not all cats are effected by the nip. It is estimated that 30-50% of cats have no reaction! This is most likely determined by their genetic traits, so you may have one cat that goes bonkers for it and another that shows no interest at all. Kittens are not normally effected by the plant until at least 6 months of age, IF they inherited the gene at all.
Before giving up totally on the enjoyment of sharing the “nip trip” with your feline, there are some other varieties of plants that may attract your cat instead or just as an alternative to change things up a bit.
VALERIAN ROOT has been shown to have the same effects on cats and oddly enough, has been proven to have effects not only on cats, but on dogs, rats and in one study we read, earthworms! Another plant your cat may react to is SILVER VINE (also called matatabi), eliciting a euphoric response in cats. The reaction to silver vine is similar to the catnip response, but appears to be more intense. You can see how excitedly Marm reacted to it in the video!
Check out these Valerian Root and Silver Vine options…
Check with your local greenhouse or garden center this year to see if catnip can be grown in your region. It’s fairly easy to grow, will likely overtake the location eventually and the only thing we’d warn you of is to watch out for all the neighborhood cats that may be roaming around. Your yard may just become their favorite hot spot! If you’re like Jess…you can see she’s chosen to FILL our garden with the plant (we’re up to 10!). Luckily for us, she uses this in her homemade crocheted cat toys on her Etsy store Accessorati, so lots of cats can enjoy her gardening & crafting addiction!
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