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All About Catnip

May 1, 2018

It’s your feline friend’s favorite indulgence—you’ve probably heard of catnip, but how much do you know about this fascinating aspect of our cats’ lives? Here, your Salem, VA veterinarian answers your most common questions on catnip:

What Exactly is Catnip?

Catnip is an herb, categorized in the same plant “family” as mint. It grows in the wild, and is originally from Europe but has since spread all over the world. In a pet store, you’ll find a dried and processed version of the wild plant, which looks almost like dried basil flakes or oregano that you probably have in your spice cabinet.

Raw catnip as described above is the most “potent” form of catnip, but it can also be infused into sprays and included in cat toys.

How Do Cats Respond?

Cats respond to catnip in a variety of ways. Some might run excitedly to and fro for a few minutes, leaping around from the floor onto furniture and back down again. Others will rub their faces or bodies in the area where catnip was sprinkled. Still other cats might simply stretch out on their backs and relax there in a state of bliss. It simply depends on your particular cat!

Why Do Cats Respond?

The oils of the catnip plant contain a chemical substance called nepetalactone, which is what causes the reaction you’ll see when you present your cat with catnip. Nepetalactone causes a chemical reaction in Fluffy’s brain, which many experts liken to an aphrodisiac. It’s possible that catnip causes a kind of sexual response in your cat’s brain!

Why Isn’t My Cat Reacting to Catnip?

Does catnip not seem to have much of an effect on your cat? Don’t worry—your pet is perfectly healthy. You may be surprised to learn that cats actually require a specific gene that is inherited from their parents to feel the effects of catnip. Nearly half of our feline friends don’t possess it!

Is Catnip Harmful?

No, catnip is not harmful to your pet in any way. The chemical reaction that occurs in your cat’s brain does not pose any threat whatsoever, and the effects of catnip will usually wear off after only a few short minutes. Additionally, your cat cannot “overdose” on catnip; it’s perfectly safe to offer the herb to your cat as often as you would like.

For more information about catnip, call your Salem, VA vet.

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