Catnip - A Herbal Experience
Catnip is hugely fascinating to cats and cat lovers alike. There are about 250 different species of Nepeta cataria and it is variously referred to as catnip or catmint. Catnip can be found stuffed in cat toys, bought loose or grown in the garden. There are even varieties that release lemon scents. Some people use catnip to encourage their cat to use certain toys, particularly scratching posts.
Trigger a Reaction
Not every cat will respond to catnip - the reaction is thought to be 'hard-wired' according to an individual cat's genetic make-up. Around 80% of cats in the UK respond to catnip, yet in Australia most cats don't respond at all as they descended from a small genetic pool of non-responders. It's also been observed that kittens don't tend to show a response to catnip until they are 6-8 weeks old and that it can take until 12 weeks of age before the behaviour is fully developed.
The cats that respond to catnip tend to show euphoric behaviour, rolling around, purring, yowling, licking, leaping and even salivating. This intense reaction lasts just a few minutes and the behaviour doesn't tend to be repeated again for 1-2 hours. Repeated exposure tends to make a cat less likely to react to catnip so there is no risk of addictive behaviours developing. Some experts have recommended that cat owners only offer catnip twice a week if they want their cat to continue to enjoy the catnip experience.
Cats don't tend to eat catnip but it is not uncommon to see them chewing at the leaves or pressing them up against the roof of the mouth. This action releases the oils containing the active ingredient which is called nepetalactone. It is thought that smell is the main route by which nepetalactone exerts its effects and the active ingredient tends to degrade over time. For this reason catnip should be kept in the freezer until it is time to use it.
It is not uncommon to see cats chewing grass outdoors; an experience that indoor cats are often deprived off. Although cat grass is not thought to offer any nutritional value or to be an essential requirement, it is widely believed that cats derive some enjoyment from the experience. Offering grass can also prevent your cat from chewing houseplants, many of which are toxic. Useful grass species can be bought in seed form and grown indoors. Softer varieties such as wheat or oat grass are most commonly recommended as they are less likely to stick to, or damage the tongue. Repeated sowings of seeds every few weeks are best, as cats appear to most enjoy young, rapidly growing shoots. When the grass is 8-10cm tall place it next to food and water bowls, allowing your cat free access. Some cats may bring up hairballs containing grass but there is no need to worry about this - in fact some people believe that grass can be useful in preventing hairballs from causing obstructions and blockages.