Catnip offers a natural way to keep your cat happy and entertained.
Cat owners often jokingly call catnip ‘kitty crack” or “kitty marijuana” because of the ways cats react when they are exposed to it. First and foremost, catnip, catmint, catswort or whatever you call the plant with the Latin name Nepeta catania, is nontoxic and perfectly safe for feline recreational use.
The active ingredient in the plant is nepetalactone and it 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.
This is why it makes sense that so many cat toys contain catnip in some form. Most contain dried leaves, although some use catnip oil. (And, as with that other “herb,” not all catnip is equal—some plants can be more potent than others.) Catnip-stuff toys usually come in one of two ways: sealed so that the contents stay put or refillable so that you can refresh the catnip on a regular basis to retain your cat’s interest.
One major benefit of catnip toys is they can increase the play drive of even sedentary, older cats, which in turn promotes healthful exercise. Catnip’s effects usually only last about 10 minutes, so it’s a good idea to have at least one such play session a day. Interestingly, catnip has no effect on young kittens; it usually only stirs interest when they are about nine months old.
Catnip is great for introducing cats to new feline furniture, such as a new scratcher, cat tree or cat bed. Simply rubbing some dried leaves on the new item will instantly pique feline interest, causing your cat to claim her new territory. You can also purchase catnip in a spray form (such as the aforementioned oil) and there are even catnip bubbles for fun, interactive playtimes.
You can also grow your own catnip. It’s very decorative and grows well both outdoors and indoors in a bright sunny place such as a kitchen windowsill. One problem, however, is many cats find real plants irresistible and will destroy them in no time.
Chances are if you bought gifts for your cat over the recent holidays, she now has a variety of new catnip toys. Never put them all into play at the same time. Keep some of your cat’s holiday stash in reserve so that when she completely destroys toy, you will have new stock on hand.
In addition, because catnip offers short-term stimulation, it’s a good idea to pick up catnip toys after every play session. Doing so will help keep your cat interested in the toys—they will be “new” the next time she plays with them.
Despite the popularity of catnip, there are some felines who simply aren’t interested in the plant at all at any age. Silver vine (Actinidia polygama), an Asian plant also known as matatabi, might just be the answer. It contains catnip’s active ingredient nepetalactone, as well as actinidine and dihydroactinidiolide, which can also give cats a nontoxic “high.” The plant is now available in the U.S. in dried form in sachets and in toys, too. You can find it in pet specialty stores and online.
About the Author: Sandy Robins is the 2013 winner of the “Excellence in Journalism and Outstanding Contribution to the Pet Industry Award.” Her work appears on many of the country’s leading pet platforms, such as MSNBC.com, MSN.com and TODAYShow.com. She is a regular contributor and columnist in multiple national and international publications, including Cat Fancy, as well as the author of the award-winning books “Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat” and “For The Love of Cats.” Learn more about Sandy on her website or Facebook page. #welovecats