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Many Guardians are aware of the attraction that most cats have to the Catnip, but many don’t know why cats are attracted to the plant.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a perennial plant in the mint family. There are many varieties, and some can grow to three feet in height. They have beautiful flowers and can bloom all summer long, attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. It has also been found to be an effective repellent for flies and mosquitoes, among other pests.

Nepetalactone is the active substance in the leaves and stem that attracts the cat and causes a variety of reactions in most, but not all cats. Exposure, and even ingesting, it is neither addictive nor harmful. It seems that a response to nepetalactone is an inherited trait, and so not all cats will react. Reactions also tend to vary depending on how they are exposed.

Sniffing the leaves acts a stimulant and produces excitement or euphoria that lasts no more than ten minutes in most cases. Squeezing or rubbing the leaves and stems can expose more of the active substance.

Eating the leaves and stems is not harmful. When ingested it usually has a natural, calming effect much like feline pheromones. There are the rare cats that become aggressive after eating the plant. Overeating can cause mild digestive issues (vomiting or diarrhea), which usually resolves quickly.

Often, frequent exposure can lessen the response and can cause the cat to lose interest.

Catnip can be used as a treat or as a training tool. Rubbing the plant on scratching post and bedding can encourage the cat to use these accessories. Placing the leaves in the litter box can urge a new kitty to investigate.

Some cats do not respond to Catnip. There are natural plant alternatives that have been researched and found to be useful and not harmful.

  • Silver Vine (Actinidia polygama) seems to produce a similar reaction to Catnip. Like Catnip, it is a perennial and can be grown in the garden or pots. The results are similar to Catnip. Nearly 80% of cats responded positively to Sliver Vine. Stuffed toys and stix can be found containing Silver Vine.
  • Tatarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) is a little less productive with just 50% of cats responding. It is a vine and considered by many to be a weed, so it is easily grown and prolific. It contains a substance similar to the Nepetalactone found in Catnip.
Toys are often stuffed with the leaves of Honeysuckle.
  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has a long human history as an aid in promoting sleep. About 50% of cats respond to the root of the plant. It too can be grown in the garden. The roots can be dried and exposed to cats or ground and stuffed in toys. A bonus of growing this is the beautiful white blooms it produces and the sweet fragrance.

Catnip and the alternatives are a great way to enhance a cat’s environment and reduce stress, especially if there are multiple cats in the household. The bonus of growing the plants is the environmental enrichment for the entire family.

Be sure and ask the staff at your favorite Pet Planet store about what Catnip products are available.


Additional References



Catnip and Your Cat

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