Catnip 101

Catnip—it’s our feline friends’ preferred indulgence. Have you ever wanted to know more about this fascinating plant? Here, your Ellicott City, MD veterinarian tells you everything you need to know about catnip and our feline friends.

What is Catnip?

Catnip is an herb, similar to many that might grow in your garden or reside in your spice cabinet. It’s even classified in the same plant “family” as mint! The wild plant originated in Europe but has since spread all over the world; it’s leafy green and has white flowers with distinctive purple spots.

In a pet store, you can purchase “raw” catnip, which is a dried and processed version of the wild plant that looks similar to oregano or basil flakes. Catnip is also often added to cat toys, or infused into sprays and other products.

How Do Cats Respond to Catnip?

There are several ways that a cat might respond to catnip. Some roll around in an excited manner, perhaps rubbing their faces or bodies in the area where catnip was sprinkled. Others run around rambunctiously, while others may simply stretch out in a state of bliss.

Catnip’s effect doesn’t last long, usually wearing off after only a few short minutes. Raw catnip tends to be more “potent” than sprays, toys, or other products.

What Causes the Reaction?

The oils of the catnip plant’s stem and leaves contain a chemical called nepetalactone, and it’s this substance that causes the reaction you see in your cat. It causes a chemical reaction in your cat’s brain, and many experts believe that this chemical acts as a sort of aphrodisiac, affecting the same parts of your cat’s brain that facilitate sexual responses!

Is Catnip Harmful?

No, catnip isn’t harmful to your pet. It’s not possible for your cat to overdose on the herb, or become addicted—the chemical reaction that occurs in Fluffy’s brain does not cause harm whatsoever.

Why Isn’t My Cat Reacting to Catnip?

Have you given catnip to your pet, but found that they had no reaction? If your cat doesn’t seem to respond to catnip, have no fear—they’re perfectly healthy. It turns out that cats require a particular gene, inherited from their parents, to experience the chemical reaction that catnip causes. Without this gene, catnip won’t affect your cat at all!

Does your cat need a veterinary appointment? Call your Ellicott City, MD animal hospital today.

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