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Answering Your Catnip FAQs

September 1, 2020

You’ve probably heard of catnip before. It’s our feline friends’ favorite indulgence! But many cat owners aren’t familiar with what catnip is, exactly, and how and why it affects cats. Below, your Bruce Crossing, MI vet answers your frequently asked questions on catnip.

What is catnip, anyway?

Catnip is an herb that grows in the wild, similar to other herbs you’re familiar with like basil and mint. The plant stands a few feet tall and boasts white flowers with distinctive purple spots. It’s originally from Europe, but the plant has since spread all over the world and is found in many areas across North America.

In a pet store, you’ll find “raw” catnip, which is a dried and processed version of the plant that looks similar to oregano or other spices you probably have in your cabinet. Catnip can also be included in cat toys and other products.

Why do cats react to catnip?

The oils of the catnip plant contain a substance called nepetalactone. It’s this chemical that triggers a response in your cat’s brain. Because the area of the brain that responds is the same on that is triggered by sexual stimuli, some experts liken catnip to a sort of feline aphrodisiac!

Different cats will react to catnip in different ways. Some rub their faces and bodies around the catnip, while others dart around excitedly. Other cats might simply stretch out in a state of bliss. The effect usually doesn’t last long, however, wearing off in only a few minutes.

Is catnip harmful in any way?

No, catnip is perfectly safe for your cat and won’t harm them. The chemical reaction caused by nepetalactone is normal, and your cat can’t become addicted to catnip or “overdose” on the herb. Feel free to give your feline friend raw catnip or catnip toys as often as you see fit.

Why doesn’t my cat respond to catnip?

Have you tried giving your pet catnip, but seen no results? There’s no need to worry—your cat is perfectly healthy! It turns out that plenty of cats (nearly half, actually) don’t respond to catnip. That’s because your cat needs a particular gene, inherited from both of their parents, to respond to the nepetalactone chemical. If they don’t possess that gene, catnip won’t really do much of anything.

To learn more about catnip and your cat’s behavior, call your Bruce Crossing, MI veterinarian today.

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