Catnip is a fun accessory that most pet owners have in their feline tool belt. The little herb keeps cats entertained and can actually have some health benefits.
Known by some other names, such as catbasil, catwort and catmint, the catnip plant is native to Europe but also grows in North America and Asia. It can also be purchased from local greenhouses for cat owners to grow in their homes and is also available commercially, in a dried or concentrated aerosol form.
Seemingly, cats are drawn to the essential oils and sterols found within catnip and can release them by rubbing against it and licking or nibbling on it. Cats often exhibit a wild, narcotic effect when exposed to catnip. The active compound responsible for these effects is called nepetalactone. Nepetalactone actively binds to protein receptors in the body, in order to stimulate sensory neurons. While cats seem to exhibit narcotic behaviour when exposed to catnip, it is non-addictive and completely harmless.
The effects of catnip can last up to ten minutes in adult cats, with a hereditary response seen in 65-80% of cats.
Fun fact: catnip doesn't affect kittens until they are about six months old and begin to reach maturity.
Catnip also carries health benefits for felines. It encourages play and activity. The more a cat is moving, the more calories it is burning. This can help reduce weight gain and promote weight loss in obese cats. Increased activity also greatly improves cardiovascular health.
Training a cat is always a challenge but catnip may actually be able to help. If your cat likes catnip, it can be used as positive reinforcement. When your cat exhibits a positive behaviour, for example scratching their cat post instead of the couch, reward them with catnip for a job well done
The active compounds in catnip do not last forever and can degrade overtime, rendering the catnip ineffective. If you purchase dried catnip, keeping it in the freezer can greatly extend its shelf life.
Overall, catnip is a healthy and fun kitty product. It can be given daily in a moderate amount to keep your cat entertained and boost its activity level!