Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a perennial herb of the mint family. Although originally native to Europe, it has been successfully imported to many countries of the world where it is often considered to be a weed! The plant can grow as high as 3 feet, has lots of branches and can be recognised by its clusters of small white purple-spotted flowers at the ends of its stems.
What does it do?
When exposed to catnip some cats will rub (often with the chin and cheek areas), sniff, lick and eat the plant, sometimes followed by rolling over the plant. Following this contact with the catnip, behavioural changes are often seen. Most commonly reported signs of ‘intoxication’ include having a ‘wild’ or ‘drunken’ appearance, vocalisation, rolling around in ecstasy and showing signs similar to sexual arousal. Affected cats look like they are having a really good time!! The effects usually last for a few minutes. Cats will then not react to catnip for at least an hour. In some cats, aggression can be seen with exposure to catnip. In these cats, it is probably best to avoid giving catnip treats or toys.
Cat owners often enjoy seeing the effect that catnip has on their pet. Catnip can be grown in the garden or purchased as a dry herb which can be sprinkled onto food, incorporated into toys or put onto a scratching post.
Does catnip affect all cats?
No – not all cats react to catnip. Susceptibility to behavioural changes has been shown to be inherited as a dominant trait in cats. This means that cats with one or both copies of the autosomal dominant gene will show behavioural changes when exposed to catnip. The effect is not seen in kittens, and in fact very young kittens tend to avoid catnip. Susceptibility to catnip starts to develop once kittens are six to eight weeks of age, fully developing when they are about 12 weeks old.