Get even more of your curious cat questions answered here: “Why do Cats…? The Definitive Guide to All Your Curious Cat Questions”.
Why do Cats Love Catnip?
Not sure why cats love catnip so much? If you are new to a cat’s fascination with catnip, then this section is for you.
As a type of herb belonging to the same “family” as oregano and spearmint, catnip is also called “catmint” and it can grow up to one metre in height!
Catnip’s scientific name is Nepeta Cataria. It has a rich history that can be traced from its early years as Agnus Catus, a Roman herb that has been used as medicinal tea until today for digestive and respiratory problems. Much later, catnip was brought to America and grown as crops to be used as tea and herbal medication. For centuries, it has been known as a natural treatment for insomnia, arthritis, cramps and headaches. If you’ve got that green thumb, you can even consider catnip planting as long as you can provide a huge, cat-restricted garden space with good sunlight (because they do grow and spread) or as an alternative, a container placed on a hard surface for support.
Catnip toys for cats are made with either catnip leaves or catnip essential oil. Catnip gives a cat more energy as soon as it’s sniffed, licked and chewed. Catnip contact leads to more head and body movements (e.g. rolling, rubbing, shaking heads, drooling, leaping) and more purrs, ending up very playful due to that natural high lasting about ten minutes on the average. Just imagine what chocolates and coffee can do to chocoholics and coffeeholics, right? It’s not a drug and there’s no such thing as catnip overdose, yet feeding in moderate amounts are still highly encouraged.
Catnip does heal humans but it has this mysterious effect on cats that makes them go “gaga” for a few minutes (then it would take at least a 30-minute break to get that kind of ten-minute high again). Here are three factors to consider as to what catnip can do to our cats:
No longer limited to driving away insects such as mosquitos, Nepetalactone is the oil in catnip that evaporates when a cat’s mouth, body or paws come into contact with and creates pressure or damage on the plant’s stems and leaves (no need to ingest). This creates the smell that when sniffed, enters the cat’s brain areas: the amygdala, responsible for a mammal’s emotional response, and the hypothalamus gland, the creator of signals for sex and hunger.
Physical and psychological benefits
Catnip has a calming effect on cats after the ten-minute high, and this can help them deal with stress. Apart from sharper natural instincts, catnip mice and other catnip toys promote good health with regular interactive playtime and exercise. It also can be a good tool for positive reinforcement, if you don’t want them them wandering around where they shouldn’t go, keep using catnip oil to mark their territory and help them stay put.
There are also some cats who don’t react to catnip, such as kittens younger than eight weeks and senior cats. Catnip is also not advisable for cats with seizures (it increases risks) and cats that are pregnant (it causes contraction that can result in early labor). To make its potency last longer, catnip should be stored in the freezer using a Ziploc bag or an airtight container.
You can get your cat’s catnip fix in nurseries or online shops such as ours, but there are also alternative herbs such as valerian and tartarian honeysuckle shrub that create almost the same effect (almost because they’re less intense).