Catnip 101

Everyone’s heard of catnip. How much do you truly know about our feline friends’ favorite vice? Here, your Crown Point, IN veterinarian fills you in on the basics.

What Exactly is Catnip?

Catnip is a natural herb, categorized in the same plant family as mint. It originated in Europe, but has spread all over North America and many other parts of the world since, and can now grow just about anywhere.

A wild catnip plant is leafy and green, several feet in height, and has distinctive white flowers with purple spots. The catnip you buy in a pet store has been processed and dried, and it will look much like small bits of greenish-brown oregano or basil.

How Does Catnip Affect the Brain?

Catnip contains a chemical substance called nepetalactone, which is found in the oils of the plant’s stem, leaves, and seeds. Nepetalactone is what causes the reaction you see in a cat; it’s essentially an aphrodisiac or pheromone substance, and results in a nearly sexual response in our feline companions.

Nepetalactone doesn’t pose any danger whatsoever to cats, and doesn’t harm the brain or any other body system. If you would like more insight into exactly how the substance works to affect your cat’s brain chemistry, ask your veterinary professional.

How Do Cats React to Catnip?

Not every cat will respond the same way to catnip. Some run around excitedly for several minutes at a time. Some vocalize loudly or purr intensely. Other cats will rub their faces and bodies vigorously in the area the catnip has been sprinkled, and some may simply lay down on their side, spread eagle, and relax. It all depends on your particular cat!

Generally, the effects of catnip will wear off after a short period of time (usually 15 to 20 minutes). The type of catnip used can have an effect on this; raw catnip is generally more potent than modern catnip sprays or other commercial products.

Why Doesn’t My Cat Respond to Catnip?

If your cat doesn’t seem to react to catnip at all, they’re not alone. Don’t worry—nothing is wrong! In fact, nearly half of all cats don’t react to the herb. This is because cats actually need to possess a particular gene, inherited from their parents, to feel any effects from catnip at all.

Does your cat need veterinary attention? Call your Crown Point, IN animal hospital today.

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