Catnip - What You Know and What You Don’t

Why does catnip—also known as catmint—have such a strange effect on your cat?

Some history: catnip was actually used by humans to treat nervous maladies, hysteria and, yes, insanity. It was consumed as a tea or a juice, as a poultice, and even smoked and chewed. It has a mild soothing and even hallucinogenic effect. (I am NOT suggesting here that we all start drinking catnip tea; chamomile will do just fine.)

Most cats become extremely mellow after they eat catnip, happily lolling about and then snoozing. Other cats, however, will smell and roll in catnip and seem to go bonkers—running around, chasing their tails, drooling, and even becoming aggressive with both other cats and humans –a state that lasts roughly 10 minutes.

And then there are the cats who are immune to catnip—about 50% of cats have no response at all. Why? The sensitivity to catnip is inherited. Kittens also don’t respond to catnip until they are three to six months old.

So: your cat loves catnip. There’s no reason why he or she can’t have it. Many cat toys are either catnip scented or contain actual catnip. Some toys even have little pockets in them so that you can replace the original catnip with new, fresh nip.

How do you keep catnip fresh? The best way is to store it in an airtight bag in your freezer. Another good way is to store it in a tea tin.

Your boy or girl might even enjoy live catnip—most pet stores carry both live catnip in little pots or as seeds so that you can grow your own on a sunny windowsill. Cats will happily chew on live catnip, which means catnip plants won’t last very long, but that you’ll have a happy cat.