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Catnip for cats: what it is, uses and what effect it does
Catnip for cats: what it is, uses and what effect it does

L' Catnip it is a perennial herbaceous plant, with a mint-like appearance and smell. Its scientific name is Nepeta cataria and it belongs to the family of Laminaceae, to which they also belong aromatic plants such as mint, sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, marjoram and lemon balm.

Where does the name catnip come from?

The scientific name Nepeta cataria, coming from the Latin cathus, meaning “of the cats”. The name Catnip, in fact, derives from the singular effect that it produces on our feline friends. It is also known as catnip, catnip or simply catnip, and should not be confused with grass for cats which is usually ingested by cats with the aim of inducing vomiting to expel ingested poorly digestible substances. Catnip is also called cats mint, due to its similarity to this aromatic plant.


Composition and properties of catnip

Catnip contains a large amount of active substances, especially in his essential oil. These substances are:

  • Camphor
  • Thymol
  • Nepetalactone and Epinepetalactone
  • Karyophyllene
  • Pulegone
  • Carvacrol

Apart from the essential oil, the plant also contains flavonoids, saponins and tannins.

Due to the aforementioned substances, catnip has sedative, antispasmodic, antipyretic and diaphoretic properties (which control the increase in body sweating). They are also attributed to the infusion in water obtained from the aerial parts of the plants diuretic properties and stimulating the activity of the gallbladder.

The essential oil of catnip also has some insect repellent properties, in particular against cockroaches and flies.

Effect of catnip on cats

Catnip has a effect very particular about cats, so much so that many have compared it to a drug. Cats usually smell it, nibble on it and rub their snouts on its surface, this triggers the following in them behaviors:

  • The cats begin to roll on their backs by turning from side to side.
  • They begin to purr.
  • They start running, jumping and playing full of sudden energy, and emitting strange meows.

Contrary to the majority of cases, in some cats it seems that catnip produces a sedative effect rather than exciting. In others, however, exciting effect it is so powerful that it suddenly makes them aggressive.

Furthermore, according to some studies, catnip does not produce an exciting or sedative effect on all cats, some may respond in a mixed way. Apparently these different ways of reacting would be due to factors such as the occurrence, or not, of early sterilization and age.

Why does catnip attract cats and how long does its effects last?

Some theories argue that what mainly attracts felines is the content of Nepetalactone present in the plant, as similar to some pheromones produced by the cats themselves.

The effects of catnip appear quickly and last for approximately 10-15 minutes.

Use of catnip for cats in the home

L' exciting and stimulating effect of this particular plant is the main reason why it is used in many games for cats, often also associated with valerian which has similar effects.

Catnip is also often used to help cats get used to the use of the scratching post, to a new kennel or as a stimulant for particularly lazy specimens.

There is no evidence to indicate that catnip may have toxic effects on our four-legged friends, however it is always advisable to ask your veterinarian for advice before exposing your cat, since it seems that it can cause habituation if used too often.