Catnip, the Kitty Gateway Drug?


Oliver is the first cat that I have owned, though I have also worked with cats at the humane society, and I will be the first to admit that the journey through cat supplies has been a confusing and difficult one. But one of the questions that kept popping up for me was “Is catnip safe for my baldy baby”?

I remember one of my coworkers coming to work and talking about her new kitten and flashing the mandatory Instagram pics of her cat, in the picture he was playing with a toy and I naively asked her if the toy had catnip in it. It didn’t go over well. According to her catnip was the greatest of all kitty evils and she didn’t want to expose her cat to it, she seemed offended that I would even ask about it. Coming off that experience I was a little wary where catnip was concerned. Was I crazy in thinking that catnip was just a way for a cat to have some feel good time? If I gave Oliver catnip would he soon start sinking deeper into the world of kitty drugs, missing curfew, and getting tatted? I bypassed many a cute toy on Etsy because I didn’t want to send Oliver into this downward spiral. But eventually I realized I was being a little crazy and decided to look into the catnip thing myself. This is what I found.

Catnip comes from the mint family and the variety that drives cats crazy is called¬†nepeta cataria which contains an oil called nepetalactone that just makes cats crazy. When exposed to catnip cats can start rolling on the floor, rubbing their faces into the catnip, and drooling (cute, but surely no worse than my dog does when exposed to steak). It is said that catnip can cause hallucinogenic effects, many compare it to a mix between LSD and marijuana. It also might mimic kitty “feel good” pheromones. Cats love the smell of catnip and really that is all it takes to make your kitty happy, but they often try to eat it as well. It is thought that by eating it the cats seem to “mellow down,” but who knows, as with everything in life, this is an individual experience, every cat is different and so may have different results. Though, if your cat likes catnip then they will probably act the same as the other cats who like catnip.

Now here is an interesting fact: not all cats respond to catnip. It is thought to be an inherited trait so if your cat didn’t get it, he is out of luck. It is estimate that 50% of cats don’t respond at all to catnip, so sad for them. Kittens don’t respond to catnip right away either. It is something that they grow into. If your cat is prone to liking catnip they will develop this love somewhere between the ages of 3 to 6 months, if exposed to it earlier they will likely have no response to the herb at all.

So that being said, will exposing my cat to catnip cause him to become a kitty drug addict? No, it won’t. In actuality if you cat is overexposed to catnip they will start to build a resistance, or an immunity, to its effects. There is a reset time of 10 minutes to 1 hour in most cats before they will react to the catnip again, but if exposed often it will take longer and longer for them to respond to the catnip, and may even seem to lose interest in the catnip entirely because it no longer seems to have the same effect on them. It is recommended that you have catnip time no more than 2 times a week to optimize on kitty enjoyment. Because of this you probably shouldn’t leave catnip toys laying around, not just because of the cat losing interest in them, but because catnip needs to be kept “fresh”. I read somewhere that this woman keeps all her catnip toys in a Tupperware with loose catnip with the lid sealing it all in, so when she gives the toys to her cat the toy is much more potent because it hasn’t been “aired out”. I thought that was a good idea.

So catnip is okay in small doses, and even large doses won’t send your cat into the kitty underworld looking for a fix, which is good news. So buy those catnip toys!

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Haha. Get it? the cat looks like a Jedi!