Crazy for catnip?

Is your cat crazy for catnip?  Find out how to make the most of it …..

Catnip’s wonderful effects are often undervalued and overlooked.  Our clients are frequently surprised when we recommend catnip as part of a plan to resolve their feline behavior problems.  If used appropriately, catnip can help Kitty deal with emotional states that are at the root of  unwanted behaviors.  Perhaps you & your cat can benefit from the effects of catnip, too.

The nature of catnip:

Catnip produces a euphoric reaction in about 50 – 75% of cats.  When Kitty smells catnip, the active component, nepetalactone, affects her central nervous system.  As a result, Kitty behaves almost as though she’s intoxicated.  Catnip is safe & nonaddictive.  Its effects are short-lived, lasting only 5-15 minutes.

So many choices…..

You can grow catnip in your garden, as you would other perennial herbs.  (Just don’t be surprised if your yard becomes a favorite hangout of the neighborhood felines!)  If you like, dry your homegrown catnip for Kitty’s winter amusement.  Dried catnip, however, is readily available in most pet stores.  Look for organic catnip comprised of 100% leaves & blossoms.  (The oil in the leaves contains the nepetalactone.  The more leaves & less stems/filler – the more potent the catnip.)  Natural food stores are another good resource.  Avoid grocery & drug store catnip, whether it’s packaged loose or in toys.

If you buy catnip toys for Kitty, look for larger ones made from porous materials (felt, burlap, knits).  Small toys get lost quickly, and your cat may want a toy big enough for her to grab & bite or rake with her back feet.  Of course, there’s always the exceptional kitty who wants to carry her little catnip mouse everywhere or toss it in the air.  By all means, pick toys to safely suit your cat’s play preferences!  Or, be creative and make your own toys.  An old sock, dried catnip, cut-up rags for stuffing, some heavy string – and you’re in business.  Your cat will love you!

Will your at be charmed by catnip?

Suppose you’ve tried, and your cat isn’t susceptible to catnip’s spell.  Don’t despair, and don’t give up immediately.  Try one more time with a pinch of dry, quality catnip (see above).  Or, perhaps Kitty didn’t respond to the herb because she was too young.  Very young kittens usually aren’t affected.  Wait a few months and try again.

If you’re sure your cat just doesn’t see what all the fuss is about, then you’ll need to come up with something else she loves that you can do during your quality, stress-free time together.  If you need ideas – contact us!

When catnip is helpful

  • If your cat is well-adjusted, give her catnip as a special treat.
  • For a stressed, nervous, depressed, or bored cat, catnip can be very therapeutic.  (If Kitty has behavior problems, they may stem from these emotions.)
  • Catnip can help improve relations between felines or make new-cat introductions go smoother.
  • Sprinkle catnip on a scratching post to persuade Kitty to use her post instead of your sofa.
  • Some couch-potato cats can be gradually enticed into play with catnip.  (Ask your veterinarian how to balance exercise & diet before you dramatically increase a sedentary cat’s activity level, especially if your cat is chubby.

Note:  Catnip can cause some cats to play aggressively.  If your cat responds this way, only give her catnip when she is calm, and not when she’s around other cats or young children.  If Kitty intentionally directs this aggression toward people or pets, catnip is not for her.

Get started

OK, you’ve got the catnip and Kitty can’t wait.  Here are some ideas:

  • Throw a catnip party!  Place a towel on the floor and sprinkle dried catnip on it.  Your cat will enjoy rolling in & nibbling on the herb, but your floor will stay relatively clean.  After about 15 minutes, pick the towel up.  (If you leave it down longer, Kitty will loose interest in your party.)  Limit these get-togethers to twice weekly.
  • Let your cat play with her favorite catnip toys.  When she’s done, seal the toys in a plastic bag with a pinch of dried catnip to marinade.  Bring the toys out again in 1-2 days.  This preserves the toys’ novelty value, as well as their aroma.
  • Offer Kitty catnip from your hand.  If she’ll eat it, you can use catnip as a unique treat for training, or just for the fun of it.  But limit these tidbits to about 1/4 teaspoon every other day.

Fun catnip facts

  • The Latin name for catnip is Nepeta cataria.  The catnip plant belongs to the mint family.
  • Catnip was brought to America by the pioneers, as a vital part of their kitchen gardens.  They used it as a sleeping aid, and as a medicinal tea to alleviate coughing, cold symptoms & upset stomach.  Today, it is still used as a tea.  People drink it to relieve tensions & anxiety, which can hasten sleep if sipped before bedtime.
  • In the USA, 400 tons of catnip are used each year, with 78% of the crop going to cats.
  • Other non-feline uses:
    • Plant – an ornamental; a mouse & rat repellant
    • Dried leaves – in potpourris
    • Fresh leaves – in salads; rubbed in raw meat as a tenderizer; mixed with olive oil & seasonings for a marinade.

Whether you’re playing, cuddling or treating her to catnip, enjoy spending time with your cat.  Kitty will be happier, possibly better behaved, benefiting your relationship immensely.


Article by Ruth Hagen.  Originally published in “North Bay Pets”, Summer 1998.

© 2012 Critter Consulting

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