General Question

Comedian's avatar

What is Catnip for?

Asked by Comedian (1112 points ) December 21st, 2008

We got a scratching post for out kitten, and there was a thing of catnip in it. What do we do with it?

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10 Answers

jazzjeppe's avatar

“Catnip” is the common name for a perennial herb of the mint family. It is native to Europe and is an import to the United States and other countries. The catnip plant is now a widespread weed in North America.

Given to the right cat, catnip can cause an amazing reaction! The cat will rub it, roll over it, kick at it, and generally go nuts for several minutes. Then the cat will lose interest and walk away. Two hours later, the cat may come back and have exactly the same response.

Because there really isn’t any scent that causes this sort of reaction in humans, catnip is hard for us to understand. However, it is not an uncommon behavior in animals that rely heavily on their noses. For example, there are many scents that will trigger intense hunting behavior in dogs, and other scents will cause dogs to stop in their tracks and roll all over the scent.

Although no one knows exactly what happens in the cat’s brain, it is known that the chemical nepetalactone in catnip is the thing that triggers the response. Apparently, it somehow kicks off a stereotypical pattern in cats that are sensitive to the chemical. The catnip reaction is inherited, and some cats are totally unaffected by it. Large cats like tigers can be sensitive to it as well.

The reaction to catnip only lasts a few minutes. Then the cat acclimates to it, and it can take an hour or two away from catnip for the cat to “reset.” Then, the same reaction can occur again. Very young kittens and older cats seem less likely to have a reaction to catnip. (answer stolen…)

Comedian's avatar

do I feed it to her?

Jeruba's avatar

@jazzjeppe, hi and welcome to Fluther. Thought you might like to know that when we cite an answer from an outside source, we usually just create a link to it. You do that by putting the key phrase inside quotes, followed directly buy a colon, like this:
“catnip”:

Right after that you put the link, like this:
http://www.kyliescaninetreats.com/catnip_treats.html

And it comes out like this:
catnip

rossi_bear's avatar

@jazzjepee.. cool picture, must have went down the wrong chimney !! LOL!

Jeruba's avatar

@Comedian, no. In fact, I would not even give it to a kitten, any more than I’d give a shot of whiskey to a child.

If the catnip is already inside a little packet (i.e., a cloth container of some kind, like a ball or a mouse shape), leave it there. Otherwise you can tie it up in a little piece of cotton. Or you can just scatter a bit of it loose on the floor. When you want to offer it, crunch or rub or squeeze it a little bit to break the leaves and release the aroma. The cat will bite the toy, roll in the loose leaves, jump, turn over, wriggle and squirm, and in various ways act ecstatic and crazy. It has to be like a powerful drug to them. Some of them really freak out, which is why I wouldn’t give it to a kitten.

There are a few cats that don’t react to it, but most of them go nuts, and some actually don’t seem to enjoy it but can’t help themselves—they just get drunk. They may even pass out on the floor among the leaves.

People usually get a kick out of seeing a cat react to catnip, but I’ve often wondered if the cats are having fun or are actually uncomfortable, as you might be if someone slipped you a hallucinogenic mickey.

Darwin's avatar

If you sprinkle or rub a bit of the catnip over the scratching post, and if your kitten is one of the cats that react to catnip, it should make her fascinated periodically by the scratching post. However, what you want is for her to scratch on the scratching post, not roll on it, so you can just pitch it or save it until later.

syz's avatar

Most people find that kittens (as opposed to adults) don’t tend to react to catnip. If you don’t get a response, try again in a year or so.

jazzjeppe's avatar

Oups, sorry about that quoting and linking thing @jeruba. Haven’t learned how it works here yet :)

imhellokitty's avatar

kittens usually don’t care much for catnip. when she gets a little older she may or may not care for it. i put a little pile of it on my livingroom floor and my cats go nutz – they roll around in it, eat some of it, it makes them mellow out to the point they act like their stoned. it does no harm.

laxrrockr18's avatar

to nip your cat.

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