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Your Catnip FAQs

Catnip, it’s safe to say, is our feline friends’ favorite plant. You’ve heard of it, and you may have even tried it out on your cat. How much do you know, though, about catnip? Your St. Vital, Manitoba veterinarian answers your questions below:

What is Catnip?

Catnip is an herb that grows naturally in the wild; it’s actually classified in the same plant “family” as mint. Catnip originated in Europe, but has since been spread all over the world and can be found across North America. In the wild, the catnip plant is a leafy green plant that stands a few feet high, with white flowers that contain distinctive purple spots. At the pet store, you can purchase “raw” catnip that looks much like dried oregano or basil, or toys, sprays, and other products that have catnip infused into them.

Why Does Catnip Cause a Reaction?

The oils of the catnip plant contain a chemical substance, nepetalactone, that is the root cause of the reaction you’ll see in your feline friend. It’s this substance that triggers a chemical response in your cat’s brain. The effects don’t usually last long and most cats will settle down after only a few short minutes, although this can depend on the type and potency of the catnip that’s given to your pet.

There are several ways that a cat might respond to catnip. Some run around excitedly for a few minutes, darting this way and that, while others will rub their faces and bodies vigorously in the area where catnip was sprinkled. Other cats might simply stretch out in a state of ecstasy.

Is Catnip Safe?

Yes, catnip is safe for cats and won’t cause any health problems whatsoever. The chemical reaction caused by nepetalactone isn’t harmful, and your cat can’t “overdose” or become addicted. Feel free to try out catnip on your feline friend as often as you’d like.

Why Doesn’t My Cat React to Catnip?

Have you given your cat their favorite herb, only to find out that they don’t have a reaction? Don’t worry—your cat is perfectly fine. It turns out that many cats (almost half, in fact!) don’t respond to catnip at all. That’s because a cat needs a specific gene, inherited from their parents, to feel catnip’s effects. Without it, catnip won’t do much of anything!

For more information about catnip, call your St. Vital, Manitoba veterinary clinic.

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