You walk into a room and find your cat rolling and twisting on the floor, oblivious to whatever is going on around him. You know right away that your cat has been into the catnip.
What is It?
Catnip is an herb that belongs to the mint family, and the essential oil in its leaves and stem can be a very attractive smell to cats. But the effects may not work on all felines, says Dr. Andrea Stickland, veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center of Chandler in Chandler, Arizona. She adds that it’s believed the oil present “mimics a feline pheromone” and can “cause an instant sense of arousal and excitation” in cats who come into contact with the smell.
“The ability to get a buzz on is also is a function of age,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, an associate veterinarian at Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in Laguna Woods, California. “Cats need to grow into it — usually around 1 year of age — and male and female cats can both respond to the effect.” Cats don’t need a lot of the plant to be present to feel the euphoric effect, with “as little as one part per billion in the air” having an impact, says Dr. Cruz.
Does It Have Any Benefits?
“Cats that are responsive to catnip really seem to enjoy themselves,” says Dr. Cruz. She adds that cats, “can chew it, rub on it or inhale it get their ‘happy’ on. But, catnip can be a tool owners can use to curb health and behavior issues too.” For instance, it’s a great resource for encouraging pets to move or play more.
“In some of my obese or heavy cats, using catnip can be a great tool to liven up the day,” says Dr. Stickland. She adds that instead of lying around and being sedentary, heavy cats may be more inclined to run around and exercise should they be exposed to the herb. She also says the herb can be a useful tool for cats who are stressed out, as it can help alleviate stress for felines when they’re moving to a new location or when another cat is added to the family.
Dr. Cruz agrees, recommending the use of the herb when you want to groom your pet or enact some type of training. She says the herb can “can also be used as a positive reward for allowing brushing or nail trimming,” or as a way to “attract a cat to a scratching post or litter box.”
Is It Safe?
As with anything, moderation is key, and the same applies for how much of this special treat you should offer your cat says, Stickland. “Since cats cannot talk to us, all we can judge is their demeanor and body language,” she continued, adding, “A cat that is constantly high cannot be good for anyone or anything.”
Dr. Cruz believes the tool is generally safe for most cats, but you should watch how your pet reacts. “The excitation caused by catnip can occasionally lead to acts of aggression by some cats,” she warns.
You can even grow the herb yourself. It is a relatively easy herb to cultivate in your own garden and can be offered to your cat without any additions. If you do decide to buy instead, Dr. Stickland advises to look for a product that’s free of pesticides.
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