An Introduction to Catnip

You’ve undoubtedly heard of catnip, but how much do you really know about this herb and the way it affects our feline friends? You may be surprised to learn that some cats don’t react to catnip at all! Learn more below from a vet in Marietta, GA.

What is Catnip, Anyway?

Catnip is a naturally occurring herb that is classified in the same plant family as mint. It’s originally from Europe, but has since spread all over the world. It’s common in North America and can grow in a variety of places and climates across the globe.

A wild catnip plant is typically several feet high, leafy and green, and has white flowers with distinctive purple spots. The catnip you’ll purchase from a pet store or retail outlet, though, is quite different. It’s been dried and processed for commercial sale, and looks similar to a container of dried basil or oregano.

How Does Catnip Work?

The agent that causes catnip to affect our feline friends is called nepetalactone, a chemical substance found in the oils of the catnip plant’s stem, leaves, and seeds. Nepetalactone affects your cat’s brain chemistry and causes the reaction you see—most experts consider it to be similar to a pheromone or aphrodisiac substance, and it results in what amounts to an almost sexual response in our cats!

How Do Cats Respond to Catnip?

Not all cats respond in the same way to catnip. Some will run around in an excited fashion for several minutes, darting this way and that. Some will meow and purr loudly and intensely. Cats have also been known to rub their faces and bodies in the area where the catnip has been sprinkled, and still others may simply lay down and relax in ecstasy. It all depends on the cat!

Although exact times can vary, the effects of catnip will typically wear off after about 10 or 15 minutes. It’s also worth noting that raw catnip will usually be more “potent” than catnip sprays.

Why Isn’t My Cat Responding?

Have you tried catnip on your feline friend to no avail? Don’t fret—your cat isn’t damaged! You’ll be surprised to learn that nearly half of all cats don’t respond to catnip at all. It turns out that cats must have a particular gene, inherited from their parents, to feel the effects.

For more information on catnip, call your Marietta, GA veterinarian.