March 1, 2009 "Ask Seth"

My cat loves catnip and acts crazy when I give her some. Can she have too much? Can I grow my own?

Dear Seth,

My cat Nora loves catnip and acts crazy when I give her some. What does catnip do to her? Can she have too much of it? Can I grow my own fresh catnip?

Catnip, also known as Nepeta Cataria, is a plant that originated in the Mediterranean and is now grown throughout North America. It's known as catnip because it can induce a temporary euphoric state in cats. The active ingredient in catnip is a chemical called Nepetalactone, which cats sense through their noses. No one is certain why Nepetalactone makes your cat so frisky, but it is thought that this chemical acts like a pheromone, resulting in increased excitement in your cat.

A feline's reaction to catnip may include licking, sniffing, chin and cheek rubbing, head shaking or even chewing the plant. These effects can last for 5 to 20 minutes or more. While most cats will react somewhat, up to 30% of cats do not respond at all to catnip, particularly very young or senior cats.

On the other hand, some cats react strongly and may get very excited. You cat may begin licking, rolling, running, drooling, jumping and/or growling. These behaviors are entertaining and harmless. Catnip is non-toxic, so there's no need to worry. Oral consumption of large amounts of catnip can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Usually your cat will limit the amount he or she ingests on its own. If your cat doesn't, you should limit the amount of catnip you offer it.

Catnip can certainly be grown at home. It's easy to plant and can be purchase in most pet stores. But be careful where you plant it! Catnip is a weed-like plant that will consume your garden if you let it. You may want to plant it in a bucket or a pot to limit its growth.

Seth Mayersohn, CVT

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