An Inside Look. Where to Stash Your Cat’s Catnip

What is Catnip and Why Do Cats Love It?

Catnip, scientifically known as Nepeta cataria, is a perennial herb from the mint family called Lamiaceae. The catnip plant has light green leaves and produces white or light purple flowers in spike formations. It is the leaves and flower tops that contain the active chemical compound that causes euphoric effects in cats.

This compound is called nepetalactone, which can be found in the essential oil of catnip. When cats smell or ingest catnip, the nepetalactone binds to receptors in their olfactory epithelium, which causes excitatory responses like sniffing, licking, chewing, head shaking, and rolling around. Though not fully understood, researchers believe nepetalactone has a stimulating or euphoric effect on cats similar to how drugs like opioids affect humans.

Not all cats are affected by nepetalactone – about 70-80% of cats exhibit a response. For those that react, catnip acts as a stimulant and promotes playful behavior. The effects are temporary and last about 5-15 minutes before wearing off.

(Source: https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/what-is-catnip-and-what-does-it-do-cats)

Where to Place Catnip in Your Home

cat playing with catnip toy

Catnip can be a great way to encourage playtime and entice your cat to use certain cat furniture and toys. Here are some of the best places in your home to put catnip:

On cat trees/scratching posts – Rubbing or sprinkling catnip on cat trees and scratch posts can make them more appealing to your cat. The scent draws them over to scratch and climb. Refresh the catnip every couple of weeks for continued interest.

In toys (stuffed mice, balls, etc.) – Putting a pinch of catnip inside toys like stuffed mice, crinkle balls, and more can increase play drive. Your cat will go crazy batting around the toy. Just make sure to remove it if your cat gets overstimulated.

Sprinkle on cat beds or mats – Lightly sprinkling loose catnip on beds or mats can make them extra inviting to cats. The calming fragrance relaxes them and makes napping more enjoyable. Refresh as needed.

When placing catnip around your home, start with small amounts and monitor your cat’s reaction. Remove access if they seem overstimulated. Providing appropriate outlets for catnip play encourages health and happiness.

Source: https://www.vetwest.com.au/pet-library/catnip/

Using Catnip to Encourage Playtime

Catnip is well known for stimulating playtime and encouraging hunting behaviors in cats. The active chemical compound in catnip, called nepetalactone, binds to receptors in a cat’s nose and stimulates their innate desire to stalk, pounce, and chase. Catnip provides an outlet for these natural feline instincts and provides much needed mental stimulation and physical activity for indoor cats.

Playing with catnip allows cats to release pent up energy and reduce boredom. Cat owners can use catnip or catnip toys to engage their cat in energetic, interactive playtime sessions. Catnip mice, balls, or tunnels are great interactive toys to encourage cats to chase, pounce, and burn energy. Catnip sprinkled on the floor can also entice cats to playfully stalk and “hunt” the catnip. Interactive playtime with catnip engages a cat’s natural instincts and strengthens the bond between owners and cats.

cat pouncing on catnip

According to Reddit users on r/CatAdvice, the effects of catnip last about 10-15 minutes before cats lose interest and stop responding to it again. It’s recommended to limit catnip play sessions to this timeframe so cats don’t get overstimulated. Outward Hound agrees that after 10-15 minutes, cats need a break from catnip as they become desensitized to its effects for a few hours.

Catnip Safety Tips

Catnip is not toxic to cats when used appropriately, but it should still be handled with care. Here are some tips for using catnip safely:

While catnip is not harmful to cats, it should be given in moderation. Overindulging in catnip can cause vomiting or diarrhea in some cats. It’s best to use catnip as an occasional treat or playtime enrichment.

Be sure to store any catnip out of your cat’s reach, such as in a sealed container in a cupboard they can’t access. Leaving catnip out where your cat can access it freely will likely lead to them overindulging.

storing catnip safely

Pay attention to your individual cat’s response to catnip. Most cats respond to catnip by becoming more playful and active, but some may become overstimulated. If your cat seems distressed by catnip or consumes a large amount at once, take the catnip away and monitor them for signs of illness.

Kittens under six months old typically do not respond to catnip. You may wish to wait to introduce catnip until your kitten is a little older and refrain from giving it to very young kittens.

While rare, some cats seem immune to the effects of catnip. Monitor your cat’s individual response and refrain from forcing them to consume catnip if they do not react.

With a little precaution, catnip can be a fun and stimulating treat for your cat. Pay attention to their reaction and limit their consumption to help keep them safe.

When to Introduce Catnip

The age at which kittens can start reacting to catnip varies, but it’s generally after 3-6 months old or once they are weaned. According to the experts at PetMD.com, most cats won’t react to catnip until they are 6 months to 1 year of age, as their nervous systems are still developing. However, some kittens may respond earlier or later. It’s best to start with small amounts of catnip to gauge your kitten’s reaction.

Some signs that a kitten is ready for catnip include being weaned from their mother, eating solid food regularly, and having adult teeth grown in. It’s recommended to introduce catnip gradually after reaching this stage of development. Consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns about the appropriate age to give your kitten catnip.

The experts at Small Door Veterinary also advise asking your vet if you have questions about catnip and your kitten. While catnip is not harmful for most kittens over 3 months old, each cat is unique. Your vet can help determine the right time to start based on your kitten’s development.

Catnip Alternatives

catnip alternatives

While catnip is beloved by many cats, some felines do not respond to it. Luckily, there are other plants that can produce a catnip-like effect for those finicky kitties. Here are some popular alternatives to catnip:

Silver Vine

Silver vine (Actinidia polygama) is a plant native to areas of China and Japan. The compounds in silver vine affect cats similarly to catnip by binding to receptors in their noses and inducing a euphoric state. In fact, some studies show that even more cats respond to silver vine than catnip. You can find silver vine sold as toys, treats, or as dried leaves. According to PetMD, silver vine is an effective alternative to catnip that many cats prefer.

Valerian

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) root can also induce a reaction in cats comparable to catnip. It contains actinidine, which is similar to nepetalactone found in catnip. Dried valerian root can be sprinkled on toys or added to treats. However, valerian should always be used in moderation, as high doses can cause adverse effects in cats.

Tatarian Honeysuckle

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) is a scented flowering bush whose flowers and stems contain compounds that can stimulate cats. According to the Animal Medical Center of New York, tatarian honeysuckle can be an effective catnip alternative for some cats. The flowers and stems can be dried and added to toys or treats.

Cats Who Don’t Respond to Catnip

It’s estimated that around 20-30% of cats do not respond to catnip. The reason boils down to genetics – specifically, whether or not the cat has the nepetalactone receptor gene. Nepetalactone is the chemical compound in catnip that triggers the euphoric response in cats when they smell it.

Cats who lack this special gene are unable to experience the effects of nepetalactone. Unfortunately there is no way to induce a catnip response in cats born without the nepetalactone receptor gene.

If your cat doesn’t respond to catnip, don’t lose hope! There are some alternatives you can try to get a similar playful reaction. Silver vine is a plant native to Asia that contains compounds like actinidine that can induce a catnip-like response. Valerian root and tartar honeysuckle are other options to experiment with as well.

While not all cats respond to catnip, those that do love it. Don’t be afraid to offer it to your cat in moderation to encourage playtime and exercise. And if your kitty gives it a sniff and walks away disinterested, try out some silver vine or valerian root instead!

Sources:
https://www.petmd.com/news/view/why-do-some-cats-not-react-catnip-37525
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/experts-how-does-catnip-work-on-cats/

Growing Catnip at Home

For cat owners looking to have a fresh supply of catnip, growing it at home is an easy option. Catnip is relatively easy to grow both outdoors in the garden and indoors in pots.

When growing catnip in the garden, make sure to choose a spot that gets plenty of sun. Catnip thrives in full sun. The soil should be well-drained but shouldn’t be allowed to fully dry out. Catnip can be grown from seeds or transplants. Sow seeds 1⁄4 inch deep in early spring after the last frost. Space transplants 12-15 inches apart. Keep the soil moist until the plants become established.

Catnip can also be successfully grown in pots and containers. Choose a container at least 6 inches deep with drainage holes. Use a premium quality potting mix and keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy. Pinch off flower buds to promote leaf growth. Harvest leaves and flowers by cutting stems right above soil level. New growth will quickly appear for repeated harvests (Source).

With proper care, catnip is relatively easy to grow both indoors and out. The reward is having a fresh supply of catnip to use as a fun treat for your cat.

Drying and Storing Catnip

After harvesting catnip leaves and flowers, it is important to properly dry them for storage. According to WikiHow, you can hang the catnip upside down in a dark, dry area like a closet. The stems can be bundled and tied together before hanging to dry. Allow the catnip to dry completely, which may take around 1 week.

Once fully dried, catnip should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place according to Made Just For You. When stored properly, dried catnip will remain potent for up to 2 years. Keeping catnip in an opaque, sealed container prevents light and air from causing it to lose its aromatic essential oils.

With the proper harvesting, drying, and storage methods, you can enjoy the maximum benefits of homegrown catnip for your feline friend over an extended period of time.

Fun Uses for Catnip

Catnip can be used in a variety of fun and stimulating ways for cats. Here are some creative uses for catnip:

Stuffed Cat Toys

Fill cat toys like mice, balls, or tunnels with loose catnip. The smell will entice kitty to play. Just make sure the toy is well-sewn so no catnip leaks out. Replace the catnip every few weeks as the scent fades. Source

Sprinkle on Scratching Posts

Rubbing catnip into sisal scratching posts encourages cats to scratch there instead of furniture. The catnip smell helps attract cats to use their scratching posts more often. Reapply catnip regularly. Source

Catnip Sachets or Pouches

Sew little sachets or pouches filled with dried catnip. Tuck them around play areas or beds for your cat to find and rub on. The catnip scent will transfer to surfaces to mark their territory. Source

Add to Treat Recipes

Mix a pinch of dried catnip into homemade cat treat recipes like tuna nibbles or salmon cakes. The catnip will make the treats even more irresistible. Just don’t overdo the catnip. Source

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