Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Catnip

Even if you’re not a cat owner or particularly well versed in the world of cat terminology, you’ll have heard the term ‘catnip’ bandied about before. Through general societal osmosis, it seems that we all sort of associate catnip, on some level, with drugs and getting high – only, for cats.

Hey, you might not think it, but harassing the neighborhood squirrels and sleeping in front of a window all day can take its toll. Sometimes a cat just needs to kick back in his favorite cardboard box with some herb and Black Sabbath.

Let’s find out a bit more about the infamous cat herb, shall we?

What is catnip?

‘Catnip’ is simply a modern, colloquial, name for the herb Nepeta Cataria, which is a surprisingly common growth throughout the U.S. and Europe – in fact, catnip is actually a close relative of some more domestically familiar herbs such as lavender or spearmint.

As with just about every… interesting herb, it’s the leaves and the essence of the plant that induces the desired effects, which means that catnip leaves, essences, oils and tinctures are the predominant market-available variations, rather than home-grown catnip plants.

Obviously, as the name suggests, this particular strain of herb has a much more interesting effect with felines than the other household seasonings you may have stacked on your spice rack. Unless your cat is a particularly skilled chef, that is.

What does catnip do to cats?

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The big question is why do cats tend to show a sudden interest in horticulture (or should that be herbology?) when it comes to catnip, rather than the wider corpus of weeds and herbs surrounding our gardens and homes?

Within the leaves, bulbs, stems and seeds of the Nepeta Cataria plant, a special ingredient called nepetalactone is found – you might want to start writing this stuff down. This particular attribute is thought to be molecularly similar to some cat pheromones, and is picked up particularly quickly by feline olfactory sensors, i.e. it stinks, but in a good way.

Now, we all know what kind of effects pheromones can have over our hormones, but when it comes to cats, as a species and their reaction to catnip, reports are pretty varied. Some cat owners claim that their resident mouse-hunter will suddenly become ecstatic when they get a whiff of some catnip, whilst others notice some of the tell-tale signs of arousal (as expected).

Many have even reported that their cat suddenly takes to drooling and sinking into a lazy, sleepy mood… As if domestic cats didn’t sleep enough already.

That being said, not all cats see what the fuss is all about. Remember college? There was always that one guy at the back of the party, sipping his orange juice and waiting for the polite time to head home for an early night.

If your cat responds in any way other than immediately rolling around, chewing, rubbing against the catnip – or catnip infused object – and meowing wildly, then you might be the proud of owner of an Orange Juice Cat.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; in fact as many as 20-30% of cats seem to have the exact same indifference towards the plant and its effects.

But for those cats that are susceptible to catnip’s effects, it’s not hard to decipher why they love it so much.

Is catnip safe for cats?

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You wouldn’t be the first person to see the correlation between catnip and recreational drug use. In fact, many pet-owners have been concerned by the plant for this very reason. Nobody wants to give something to their beloved furry friend that might be dangerous, or some sort of addictive substance.

First off, it’s important to note that catnip is a natural plant; it isn’t synthetic (providing you aren’t buying a product that’s been man-handled or altered in any drastic way), nor is it chock full of dodgy chemicals.

It’s simply an herb that pops up at the roadside.

Because it’s au naturel, so to speak, there’s nothing inherently toxic, poisonous or dangerous about catnip itself and the vast, vast majority of cats shouldn’t have any allergic or adverse reaction to small amounts of the plant or its tinctures/oils.

For the rare few that are allergic, symptoms are usually quite drastic. Owners of allergic cats report that the animal will exhibit a lot of anger and irritation, perhaps attacking or striking anything that comes close to them until the effects wear off.

Bear in mind that many believe cats actually hallucinate when exposed to catnip… So perhaps this is just a case of a bad trip, rather than allergy.

Either way, the best course of action when trying catnip for the first time is to give a very small sample portion to your cat and see how it responds, then go from there.

That said, it’s also worth taking extenuating factors into consideration. For example, is your cat on the elderly side? Or does it have any cardiac issues? Then it may be a slightly riskier bet, given that one of catnip’s well documented effects is hyperactivity.

As ever, though, this requires you to know your pet inside and out before making any decisions for them – judge the situation, and your pet, accordingly before administering any foreign element, catnip or otherwise!

An additional side-note: one of catnip’s benefits is that it helps with blood flow around the pelvic area, and aides menstruation in humans (more on that later). As a result, however, it’s advised to never give catnip to pregnant humans or animals.

So, is it safe for cats?

Answer: catnip is generally safe for your cat, providing he or she is already healthy and not pregnant. But the real question should be: is it safe for you, as a pet-owner? It’s always worth thinking twice about the possible arousal issue before giving the herb over to your cat; it might best to make yourself scarce for the next fifteen to twenty. Your mileage may vary.

Can cats overdose on catnip?

The safety factor notwithstanding, this does raise an interesting follow-up question. We’re told many, many things are safe for consumption, for humans and animals alike, so long as it’s in small quantities.

With that in mind, is it possible for a cat to take too much catnip, or to overdose?

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Given that it’s simply an herb that promotes a change in mood for a short period, it isn’t technically possible for your cat to overdose on catnip, to the extent that too much will seriously damage their body.

However, if a cat does eat too much of the stuff, both kitty and owner will soon know about it, through the medium of vomit or diarrhea. Worry not, though, these side-effects are generally uncommon and shouldn’t last long enough to cause any real health concerns.

Remember that nobody knows your cat better than the fur ball itself. It will know its own limits when it comes to eating or ingesting, and will likely not gorge itself on something if it feels full or sick.

If you are concerned about exposing your cat to too much catnip at once, however, then simply control the portion sizes and make sure that all leaves, oils and other catnip infused objects are kept out of harm’s way!

How to give cats catnip

Now, when it comes to actually delivering catnip to your feline buddy, the choice is really yours. Catnip is sold in much the same way that any conventional herb is marketed towards humans.

You can buy catnip oils, which can be used to infuse your cat’s bedding or favorite lazy-spot or even some of their more furry toys.

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The herb also comes available in powdered form which can be great for sprinkling around a particular area of your garden/home/cat’s room in order to give the location a sense of the plant, rather than focusing it on one specific item or spot.

Some catnip toys already come with small amounts of catnip sewn in, infused or coated already – all you have to do is hand over the toy as a sacrificial victim, stand back and watch nature take hold.

Of course, you can also buy catnip leaves (dried, cured or ‘fresh’) which comes in various quantities – this can be given to your cat like any other foodstuff, or perhaps as part of a little treat, but be wary of portion sizes if you go down this route. Nobody wants to be clearing up cat puke and diarrhea on a Sunday morning.

Given that the catnip plant itself is naturally occurring throughout America, Europe and Asia, it’s not unlikely that you might just stumble across it in the wild, and who doesn’t like free stuff?

Keep an eye out for a white-grey plant that gives off a minty scent (although sometimes the flowers will have little traits of purple throughout). The plant will have heart-shaped, grey/green leaves, with furry stems and tends to be a sturdy, tall growth.

The plant may also be surrounded by a sect of worshipful cats.

The leaves of the catnip plant can be eaten raw, but it’s worth remembering that the fresher the plant is, the more potent the effects will be; especially compared to dried or powdered variations, which lose a lot of their power. Thus, it’s advised that you cut down your cat’s regular portion size if you’re changing from dried to fresh leaves.

Indeed, some cat-owners even go to the lengths of growing their own catnip plants. The best location for growing your own is in a well-lighted area, away from shade and in well-drained soil!

Can kittens have catnip?

Generally speaking, there isn’t any cause for concern when it comes to the age of your kitten and its exposure to catnip.

There’s nothing inherently harmful (unless, of course, your particular pet happens to be allergic) that takes place in the younger feline as opposed to an elder statesman of feline-highs.

In saying that, don’t be confused or concerned if you do give your young kitten some catnip only to find that it has no reaction whatsoever; it’s generally believed that the cat needs to be around six-nine months old before a necessary gene kicks in. Basically, kitty puberty.

In fact, many kitten owners have said that their adorable little ball of fur will actually go out of their way to avoid catnip altogether – perhaps it takes an older palette to truly appreciate the refinement.

But, generally speaking, it’s safe for kittens to be given the herb. An additional thought on the matter, however, is that the younger a cat is, the less sure it will be of the world around it. To give it a substance, at this stage of its life that might, possibly, induce some hallucinogenic response could have a long-lasting effect going on into cat adulthood.

As with everything mentioned so far, it’s best to play these things by ear. Nobody can predict what your particular kitten’s personality, psychology or tastes are going to be – only experience can inform you.

What about catnip for dogs?

You’ve got to figure that it’s known as catnip for a reason, right? Well, that logic isn’t actually far from the truth – although it’s perfectly harmless to give catnip to dogs, as well as cats, the effects are generally different.

The most noteworthy catnip-induced effect that you might see for canines is the sedative aspect, which isn’t too common in cats (although, it can happen). It’s this sedating, calming effect that’s seeing many dog-owners administer catnip, in its various forms, to their dogs if they suffer from nervous conditions – or if it’s time to make that dreaded trip to the vet.

That said, there are some other benefits of catnip, beyond the superficial stimulants that cats enjoy. For example, dog owners might want to consider giving their pooch some of the herb if they suffer from frequent intestinal issues or discomfort. The plant can be great for encouraging flatulence, or loosening up cramps and constipation in pets.

So, yes, catnip can be given to dogs – but aside from some sedation and an increase in farts; there isn’t anywhere near the same amount of fun/wackiness that we’ve come to expect from cats – par for the course, really.

What about catnip for humans?

Finally, we arrive at the question that most people want to know but seem reluctant to ask…What, if any, effect does catnip have over humans? Or put more bluntly, can you smoke catnip to get high?

Depending on who you ask, where you get your information from, what your residential shady-street-corner-guy tells you… You’ll come away from this question with about twenty different answers.

Some say that yes, catnip does have similar effects on humans as it does cats – others think this is absolute nonsense. So, we’ll do our best to cut through the noise.

Beginning with the definite effects over humans:

  • Ingesting catnip leaves or powder/supplements can help with gastrointestinal upset (just like the doggies), including cramping, gas build up, constipation and indigestion.
  • Catnip has been used for centuries as a sedative for humans (again, something man’s best friend has in common with us) – which continues a long-running theme with many common herbs and plants making for soothing teas; such as lavender, valerian and so forth. Naturally, with this sedating effect, catnip can help with stress, anxiety and insomnia in humans – and is even said to be beneficial when it comes to headaches.
  • As discussed earlier, there is some evidence of human catnip consumption helping with menstruation difficulties or delays, as ingredients in the herb help to promote blood flow in the pelvic area. However, it should never be administered to a pregnant woman or animal as it may cause some issues.
  • Catnip oils and tinctures are sometimes applied directly to aide with joint pain, skin conditions and haemorrhoids due to an anti-inflammatory benefit.

Yes, yes, okay – you want to know if you can smoke catnip to get high. It’d certainly make for an easier alternative to some other smokeable herbs out there. The answer is yes, of course you can smoke it; but the ‘highness’ effect is up for debate.

Unfortunately, most testimonials on the topic are purely subjective. The general consensus, however, is that smoking catnip will not get you high in the same way that marijuana does, but it will still impart those relaxing, calming effects that come with brewing catnip tea.

Let’s not forget the most important effect, though: it makes for a fantastic mosquito repellent.

Are there any other catnip uses?

With all of this information about catnip’s more interesting effects, we often forget something very obvious: that it’s an herb. That being the case, catnip can make for a great ingredient in cooking, if you’re looking for an aromatic minty flavour.

Some reports even show that the herb was once used as a fairly common meat tenderizer and that the leaves can be used to make a strange yellow dye – make of that what you will.

Generally speaking, the plant doesn’t look that bad either; it could make for a fairly interesting house plant purely on an aesthetic level…Just don’t be surprised if your cats linger around it like moths to a flame.

And Voila! The ins and outs of the world’s favorite kitty-high; if you could do me the benefit of pretending I wrote a really pithy joke with the punchline ‘Snoop-Cat’ at the end, here, I’d be very grateful.

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