What Even Is Catnip?

Everyone knows that catnip is basically kitty crack, but what exactly is it? And is it safe for my precious, furry friend? Here’s everything you need to know about this tantalizing treat.

For starters, the scientific name for catnip is Nepeta cataria. It’s a plant that can be found in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and North America. It’s a common herb that is similar to mint.

Credit: ASPCA

The name catnip (or catmint as some people call it) comes from the interesting effect it has on our feline friends. When eaten, catnip is like a Xanax for your pet. It calms them down and can make them sleepy. When smelled, catnip gets your kitty “high.” You may notice them rolling around in it, drooling, purring, and meowing.

But how does it actually work? The catnip plant has an oil called nepetalactone in its leaves and stems. This compound lights up your cat’s brain like another cat’s pheromones would. This effect generally lasts for about 10 or 15 minutes, then your cat goes back to normal.  

Credit: SoPurrfect.com

This reaction isn’t bad for your cat because it’s basically what happens naturally when they get super frisky. Plus, the effects wear off pretty quickly. Just don’t let your cat eat too much, or they might throw up or have diarrhea (and probably a catnip hangover).

Some cats might not even react at all. Scientists think a catnip preference might run in the family and affects anywhere from 50-80% of the cat population. But if you’re looking to get a little wild with your crazy kitty, you might want to give catnip a try.

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Sarah Cookson

Writer/Dog Enthusiast living in New York City. Only goes to parties in hopes there will be a dog there to hang out with. Her resolutions for 2017 were to eat healthier and pet more pups. Bet you can guess which one she stuck with.

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