HEALTH & CARE

How to Give a Cat Catnip: Unleashing the Magic behind the Wonder Plant

white cat lying near catnip
Jeremy Vaughn
Written by Jeremy Vaughn

Cats are naturally curious, but few things can match up to the intensity with which catnip attracts them. It tops the list of plants that appeal to these odd carnivores. Catnip is known to alter the behavior of about half to two-thirds of domestic and other cats. It can make them appear drunk. It is important to know how to give a cat catnip to avoid misuse and to produce the desired effects.

There’s more to catnip than just an appealing smell. There are reasons why cats will kick at the plant, scratch it, tear it, and munch on it. We have picked just enough information to keep you in the loop concerning this peculiar plant. Before you find out how to give catnip to your cat, it is good to understand all about catnip and cats.

Catnip causes a kind of a ‘high’ to your cat—is this safe for him? What other effects come with catnip use? We have laid out all this for you and highlighted the benefits of catnip for your cat. Besides that, we have explained the different forms in which you can present catnip to your cat and how much catnip to give cat.

What is Catnip?

catnip

As the name suggests, catnip is a type of plant that cats are strongly attracted to. The chemical component that attracts felines to catnip is nepetalactone. It’s found in the leaves and flowers of the minty herb as an essential oil. The chemical has a strong scent which cats are attracted to.

Studies have found that it acts like a mild hallucinogenic drug in cats and other big felines like lions, tigers, and leopards. Catnip can also bring about reactions similar to sexual pheromones.

That said, cats will behave differently depending on genetics, age, and how they ingest the chemical from the minty herb. It’s advisable to let your cat be after introducing him to catnip for the first time as you observe his reaction to it.

Below are some common effects and reactions of catnip on cats.

#1: Aggression

Aggressive cat

The ‘high’ brought about by catnip can sometimes lead to aggressive behavior. This is attributed to the hallucinatory effects of nepetalactone. This behavior varies and is dependent on individual cats’ sensitivity to catnip.

Some felines will become aggressive against other pets and even people. They chase others wildly while growling and hissing.

The wild behavior is usually evident after a cat sniffs the herb. Two or three sniffs of the herb are enough to re-acquaint some cats with their wild side. In this state, the hallucinatory effects of the herb cause them to fight off imaginary threats aggressively. For this reason, it’s advisable to introduce catnip to kittens separately.

Understanding how each kitty reacts to catnip will help you avoid fights in a multi-kitty household.

See Also: How to Tell if Cats are Playing or Fighting

You can let an aggressive kitty enjoy catnip outside the house. It will get his juices flowing for a while, and he will return to his usual self in no time. The herb is not addictive either so a cat won’t be drawn to it for at least 2 hours after the effects wear off.

#2: Increased Playfulness

cat playing with ball

Not all cats will act aggressively after sniffing or ingesting catnip. Some kitties will immediately start playing around. Rolling on the ground, tail-chasing, and even playing with toys are some common reactions. This increased energy results from the stimulating effects of nepetalactone.

Your cat may also start running around the house jumping up and down while happily meowing constantly. This period of excitement is usually something to behold and may even get you laughing.

The reaction will usually last for about 15 minutes. After this, he will slow down, and the effects will eventually wear out within 30 minutes after ingestion.

#3: Sedation

calm tabby cat

Cats may also enter a state of blissfulness upon coming into contact with catnip. Your kitty will actually cool down and generally become calmer than usual.

This should not, however, be taken as a sign of disliking catnip. Your furry friend is actually feeling joyous and has no worries during that sedated spell. He will snap out of his ‘nap’ after a few minutes.

#4: No Effect At All

Not all cats react to either smelling or eating catnip. The suggestive behavior brought about by the minty herb is inherent. Chances are that if the mother didn’t enjoy it, neither will her kittens.

In some cases, some cats will not respond to it even if the mother did. This is due to genetics, which makes only one in two kittens inherit the gene responsible for sensitivity to nepetalactone.

At the same time, age is also a determinant on how a cat reacts to catnip. Kittens of under three months old will have no reaction to it and can even be repelled by it. Senior cats also lose sensitivity to it and will generally avoid it.

How Catnip Improves Your Cat’s Quality of Life

orange cat bored

The benefits of using catnip may not be measurable, but they are definitely observable. Catnip can transition a gloomy, moody, and depressed cat into a bundle of excitement like a magic pill.

Here are the benefits of catnip.

  • Improves your cat’s appetite.
  • Draws your cat to his play area or scratching pole.
  • Boosts your cat’s mood.
  • Turns lazy cats into bundles of activity.
  • Relieves boredom.
  • Familiarizes your kitty with new surroundings.
  • Helps for introducing a new cat to other cats in a multi-cat household.
  • Renews old toys and makes them ‘fun’ again.

Different Forms of Catnip

Catnip can be used in various ways. This provides you with varieties of ways in which your cat can access its benefits. According to what you can easily access, here are the forms in which you can use catnip.

#1: Fresh or Live Catnip

fresh catnip for a cat

Fresh catnip is one that has been freshly picked while live catnip is still growing out of the ground. These types have the most potency for your cat. You can grow your own in your garden or just buy it potted.

This ensures that you have a constant supply of fresh catnip. The plant does better with enough sunlight and moisture. It can be given to the cat as it is or pounded—the aroma which your cat cannot resist.

#2: Dried Catnip

dried catnip

When dried, catnip is better if it contains more leaves and blooms than stems. Any remainders after use should be stored in sealed containers to preserve its effectiveness. Freezing will also keep the essential oil from evaporating to the environment.

#3: Catnip Sprays

Catnip spray

These provide a lighter concentration of nepetalactone. They are great for attracting your cat to specific places to discourage them from others. You should look for sprays that do not contain any added chemicals.

#4: Catnip Balls

catnip ball

These are solid catnip balls. They may appeal to some cats and not others. If your cat gets interested, they can be long-lasting sources of pleasure for your cat.

#5: Catnip Bubbles

These provide an excellent way to play with your cat and keep him interested. While they are not so different from the ones so loved by kids, their liquid is infused with the essence of catnip.

#6: Catnip-Infused Toys

cat playing with catnip-infused toy

Cats tend to have a liking for catnip toys compared to other forms of catnip administration. Whether it is the intrigue that comes with them or their attractive shapes and colors, toys are a great way to deliver catnip to your cat.

See Also: DIY Cat Toys

How to Give Catnip to Your Cat

While giving catnip to your cat is ok, you don’t have to feed it to him for results. Smelling the catnip is equally strong. The idea is to appeal to either his sense of smell, taste, or both.

Remember that catnip is not an everyday snack; it is limited to a few special occasions. Here are several ways to give your cat his intoxicating treat:

#1: Giving Real Catnip

giving fresh catnip to a cat

Fresh or dried catnip is perfectly safe to give to cats. Despite this, it should only be given once in a while since a cat getting used to it diminishes its effect.

You can sprinkle it on a clean floor or a mat for your cat to lick or chew. Avoid giving it in a feeding bowl to avoid your cat associating it with food.

#2: In Toys

As mentioned above, cat toys are an irresistible catnip attraction for your cat. They are a sure way of keeping your cat interested, active, and entertained. They come in different shapes and are either laced with catnip essence or stuffed with dried catnip.

These toys mimic things that your cat would love to play with, pounce on, or eat. These include mice, fish, rattlesnake, shrimp, and toilet paper rolls among others. You can also make your own toys and stuff them with catnip. A good example would be a sock stuffed with catnip.

Catnip in toys is less potent, but it still works. It can be rejuvenated by putting the toys under hot water and wringing the water out. There are also refillable toys that can help maintain their potency.

#3: In Food

adding catnip to food

It is not advisable to regularly give your cat catnip mixed with his food. He might get used to it and refuse to eat food without it.

A better idea would be to sprinkle a little on his food when he lacks an appetite or when his spirits seem low. You can also give it to him as a treat once in a while.

#4: On the Scratching Pole

Catnip on the scratching pole will draw your cat from your furniture and keep him at the pole. You can buy one already impregnated with catnip, or you can spray or rub fresh catnip on it yourself.

See Also: DIY Cat Scratcher

#5: In a New Environment

cat in a new environment

When acquainting your cat with a new environment, catnip may help him settle in a more relaxed manner. Rub or spray the cat’s environment with catnip to attract him and keep him more at ease.

#6: On New House Objects

Your cat can develop an attachment to new objects especially the ones pertaining to him with a little help from catnip. Rub some catnip on them to draw your cat’s attention. These items include blankets, new collars, mats, etc.

#7: In Crates and Carriers

cat in a carrier

Getting your cat into a carrier to travel is most of the time a real struggle. Catnip may be just what you need to have a calm trip to the pet or anywhere else.

How Much Catnip to Give a Cat

cat eating catnip

Although catnip is non-toxic and harmless, overeating can have negative effects. Most cats sense when they have had enough. However, others get caught up in the allure of catnip and end up overfeeding. In such cases, the feline ends up being sickly.

Overindulgence in catnip is usually observed when it comes to the fresh plant. A cat will keep on biting on the plant as the potent fragrance continues to be released with each bite. This rewarding activity may lead to your furry friend overindulging in the minty herb.

Vomiting and diarrhea are the common symptoms of eating too much catnip. These are signs that mirror that of food poisoning. There is no need to worry, though—vomiting and diarrhea are natural mechanisms of the body to get rid of the excess catnip.

Cats should be given a pinch or two of catnip to begin with. This should be enough to give your feline the dose of greens that he needs. This is enough to keep him on par with outdoor and wild cats who get their supply fresh from their prowls out there. It’s advisable for cat parents who have a garden to plant one or two catnip plants.

A few bites on the leaves or flowers have enough nepetalactone to get your cat playful and ‘high.’ Before purchasing a bag of fresh or dried catnip, it’s advisable to ensure that it’s organic and pesticide-free.

Again, catnip should not be used as an alternative to cat food. A tablespoon of the crushed leaves and flowers is sufficient to keep a cat interested in the herb. This should be offered in moderation to avoid it becoming ineffective to your cat. Two to three times per week is enough to keep the excitement going as your cat ages.

Wrap Up

cat smelling catnip

Catnip is one plant that appeals to cats’ sense of taste and smell and brings about behavioral changes once it is ingested or inhaled. It can be used fresh, dried, infused into spray and bubble liquid, or made into balls.

Apart from directly feeding it to cats, catnip can also be strategically placed in food, toys, new environment, and in a cat’s personal effects to produce the desired results. Despite all this, it should not be given too often or as a substitute for food because it can become less effective with time or keep the cat from eating his food.

Once taken by your cat, catnip can produce positive results for the most part, but aggression and hyperactivity cannot be ruled out. It is also associated with reduced stress and moodiness, improved appetite and better adjustment to new environment, personal objects and other cats.

Did you find this information helpful? Do you have any experience with catnip? What do you feel about giving it to your cat? We would like to hear all about it. Share this plus any other feedback with us below. Want to know how else you can make your cat happy? Make some delicious DIY cat treats for him!

About the author
Jeremy Vaughn
Jeremy Vaughn

Jeremy Vaughn is a member of Canadian Professional Pet Stylists, who lives in Winnipeg. Creating new looks for cats and other pets is his passion. Jeremy shares his house with the wife and wonderful Siamese cat.

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