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Why do Cats Love Catnip

 by jaime on 29 Jun 2014 |
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If you've ever seen a cat go wild as if possessed, then chances are they were probably under the influence of catnip. Catnip is also known as catmint, catwort and field balm - whatever you call it, it has the power to make even the most docile or grumpiest of cats awash with total happiness and bliss - plus it's pretty amusing to witness!

What is catnip?

First off, catnip is not a drug. Rather, it's part of the mint family, which boasts 250 species. It originally came from Europe and Asia and it was always destined to be loved by cats as it's derived from the Latin word 'cataria' meaning 'of a cat.' Essentially when the leaves of the plant are broken a chemical and essential oil called nepetalactone is released which many cats seem to respond to in a very, very positive way.

Why do cats love it?

It's a bit of a myth to say that all cats love catnip. The reality is around half of all cats don't respond at all to it. It's an inherited trait, so not all cats end up with the catnip-loving gene. If you're unsure whether you have a catnip lover on your hands, you'll know by six months of age. Kittens and older cats don't respond either to it's minty goodness. Interestingly, it's not only domestic cats that can fall under the spell of catnip - big cats like lions easily succumb to catnip's powers. We wonder if keeping some catnip in your pocket would help if you came face to face with a lion out in the wild? Essentially, what happens is the chemical nepatalactone mimics a cat's pheromones causing a surge in a cat's brain that makes them want to rub up against the smell. And boy, do they go wild…


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What are the side effects?

Some typical reactions include:

    •    Eat, lick, roll around or sniff the catnip
    •    Rubbing themselves against the catnip
    •    Playing with the catnip
    •    Generally acting bizarrely
    •    Rolling and flipping
    •    Meowing or growling
    •    Hyperactivity
    •    Agression

It is possible for cats to overdose on catnip which can lead to vomiting or diarrhea. If they've had a bit too much catnip they might also be unresponsive, twitch, make random noises or excessively drool. It that's the case, remove them from the catnip - but don't worry, catnip wears off in around 15 minutes and cats do return to their normal selves.

These above reactions are all caused when a cat sniffs catnip, however, if they end up eating the catnip they may in fact become very mellow and sedate.

Is it safe?

Catnip is incredibly safe and bears no threat to your cat's health. It's also not possible for your cat to become addicted. However, as mentioned above, if your cat becomes a bit of a frequent user they may experience diarrhea - so you may have to make access limited.

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How can it be used?

Once you've witnessed what a powerful effect catnip can have on your feline - you'll soon realise that you can use it to your advantage as a trusty training tool. If you want to curb any naughty behaviours or entice your cat to use something like a new bed, a sprinkle of catnip can go a long way. Similarly, you can also make bored kitties entertained by making simple catnip flavoured toys  - try sprinkling an old sock with a bit of catnip.

It's important to note that dried catnip is generally more effective and more enjoyed by cats than it's spray form counterparts which are just not as strong. You could also consider growing some in your garden, so you have a near-constant supply of the stuff.

Any dried catnip that you're not using should be stored in the freezer to preserve it's potency.

Can humans use it?

Despite being popular with cats, catnip can also be very useful for humans too. Catnip has similar properties to chamomile so it can be made into a tea to provide calming effects.
It can also be used to help sooth ailments like:
    •    Mosquito bites
    •    Upset stomachs
    •    Headaches
    •    Coughing
    •    Insomnia
    •    Muscle aches and pains
    •    Chills
    •    Haemorrhoids
    •    Toothache

It can be used as a:
    •    Anaesthetic
    •    Anitbiotic
    •    Anti-Rheumatic
    •    Antispasmodic
    •    Astringent
    •    Diuretic

Please note, pregnant women should completely avoid catnip as it can induce uterine contractions.

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