How catnip works
An essential oil found in the leaves and stems of catnip, called nepetalactone, is the source of some cats' unusual behavior. It is believed that nepetalactone causes a hallucinogenic effect in cats that are sensitive to it. These cats will roll and rub on catnip with the type of enthusiasm usually reserved for excited kittens or during sexual interplay, while other cats will simply treat the catnip like a playful toy.
A cat’s behavior changes because the nepetalactone oils affect its olfactory system when it rubs against catnip. Catnip also activates certain pheromone behavioral responses, like sniffing and chewing, connected to oral and/or appetite reflexes. This is why cats without any sense of smell can also respond to catnip. The opposite effect happens when cats consume catnip, because it acts like a sedative instead of a stimulant.
There are cats that will exhibit behavioral changes that clearly show why catnip isn’t for every cat. These situations are much less common and researchers agree that catnip, with moderate use, is not harmful to cats nor is it addictive.
Why catnip isn’t for every cat
Overly aggressive behavior: Some cats love their catnip so much that they may actually become possessive of it and exhibit aggressive behavior such as hissing or biting. If this behavior turns on you, simply remove yourself from the room for at least 15 minutes to allow the cat’s behavior to calm down. Often cats will feel the need for a nap shortly after overenthusiastic play with catnip. During this stage, you can simply remove the catnip and reconsider whether or not you wish to introduce it again using a different technique. If multiple cats are in the home, it is a good idea to introduce them to catnip individually in order to gauge their reaction. Although normal aggressions are typical during cat interaction and play, if there is no overly aggressive behavior, they will have more fun playing with catnip together. If you have any concerns, simply remain in the room to supervise.
Allergies: Some cats suffer from allergies, and a low percentage of them may be allergic to catnip. According to www.myhealthycat.com, “When first giving your cat catnip or a catnip toy to play with, you should watch to see what kind of reaction your cat has. At the extreme, if your cat becomes unconscious or has seizures, contact your veterinarian immediately.” With more than 250 varieties of catnip, you may find one that does not cause an allergic reaction, especially an organic variety.
Kittens: There is no set rule, but many cat experts feel that catnip should not be introduced to kittens less than eight weeks of age. They are sexually immature during that time and will likely not respond to it anyway.
Eating catnip: If vomiting or diarrhea occurs, allow or offer only catnip toys where the plant cannot be ingested. Catnip-filled toys are the perfect solution to this problem, and the cat will enjoy the same benefits. Unless your cat eats too much or already has digestive problems, eating catnip should pose no threat. Since ingested catnip acts like a sedative, your cat will soon seek a comfortable spot for a nap.
Allowing cats to experience the magic of catnip is usually a safe way for them to have fun and reintroduce themselves to their “inner kitten.” The few reasons why catnip isn’t for every cat are easy to control. Give it a try. Your cat will have a lot of fun, and you will enjoy an entertaining, bonding interaction with your cat.