Why Cats Love Catnip

Catnip, catmint, catswort, kitty crack or whatever you call the plant with the Latin name Nepeta Catania, one thing is certain: the essential oil it contains, nepetalactone, has a powerful effect on felines revving up their play skills and prey drive by instantly turning snoozing couch potatoes into ecstatic flipped out balls of fur.

Yes, most cats simply can’t resist a little nip! And it goes without saying that there is a huge array of catnip toys of all shapes, sizes and textures to keeping felines engaged.

The advantage of catnip-infused play is that it instantly gets cats moving and exercising and thus burning off calories. This is really important especially for cats that have an indoor-only lifestyle and often tend to sleep too much because they are bored and lonely.

The advantage of little plush toys stuffed with catnip is that they are easy for cats to pick up, kick around with their back legs and also toss into the air. Such play hones a cat’s prey drive and encourages them to work on their inherent pouncing skills.

There are different grades of catnip in terms of its potency and ability to attract feline attention. Be sure to read labels and look for products that are organically grown and processed without chemicals and contain only leaves and blossoms, no inert fillers.

While catnip is the most popular plant that makes cats “high,” a similar plant called Silver Vine has been popular in Asia for many years. It’s now also available in this country and being farmed in Washington State. It’s possible that cats that aren’t attracted to catnip may enjoy Silver Vine (Actinidia polygama) instead.

Catnip toys do lose their potency over time. And if you are unable to refresh them by inserting new catnip leaves into them, then its time to purchase new ones.

My cats love nibbling on fresh catnip leaves too. The plants are readily available in nurseries and grow well both indoors and outdoors. I keep my plants on the kitchen counter near a sunny window. Some cats, like my Fudge, get over-enthusiastic and knock the entire pot and plant over, so it’s a good idea to plant it in plastic.

Catnip-induced euphoria usually lasts about ten minutes. It’s a good idea to bring out such toys at different times to get your cat to engage in playtime either by herself or with you, and then pack them away again so that the games always remain fun and fresh.

Interestingly, kittens are not interested in the plant until they are about nine months old.

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