Catnip: what is it? And how does it affect cats?

Catnip Nepeta CatariaHave you heard of catnip? Known in Botany as Nepeta cataria, this plant is really loved by domestic felines because it has ‘special powers’ over them, inducing many owners to use it for their pets.

Catnip: a mix of substances that stimulate the pet

Catnip, also known as catmint, contains vitamins, minerals, essential oils and nepetalactone. This substance is primarily responsible for the mood enhancing effects on the animal, acting just like a cat pheromone. According to studies, about two-thirds of cats are susceptible to the effects of catnip, the smell of which is perceived by their vomeronasal organs. If you meet a cat with catnip, you may witness a similar scene: the cat sniffs the leaves or the stem of catnip, he rubs against them, he rolls in them, he chews and licks them and even purrs. This combination of behaviours can last up to 15 minutes, the average time this mint-like plant holds a cat’s interest. Even if taken in high doses, catnip isn’t toxic for cats, and even if it were, the smart feline would instinctively refuse food that was potentially harmful for it, never exceeding a safe quantity to ingest.

Catnip: how to make a happy cat and owner

So, catnip can be considered a completely harmless, natural substance, capable of provoking pleasant sensations for your cat. But how should we use it? Catnip can be an ideal game for your cat while at the same time diverting their curiosity from your other house plants. Dr Maria Grazia Calore, veterinary surgeon and expert in pet behaviour provides some handy advice: “Provide your cat with a pot of planted catnip or some catnip mixed with flax seeds: this will be great sensorial stimulation for him. If possible, use a wide, low container, in this way, we will give him his own private ‘field’. Remember to give our cat a chance to look out of a window or, if possible, access to a garden or safe terrace.” And if you do not want to try to cultivate your own catnip, you can buy it in health food stores or pet shops in the form of powder, dried leaves or inserted in stuffed toys.

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