If you’ve ever seen a cat go nuts for catnip, you may be wondering, "wow, what’s in that stuff?" Catnip, or more officially, Nepetia cataria, is a plant that’s part of the mint family. It’s a hardy perennial, which means it’s extremely easy to grow, even in North Idaho. I have one catnip plant in my garden that even now is approximately 10 feet tall. I’ll be able to make kitty toys for everyone I know if I get organized enough to dry it.
Although scientists haven’t exactly figured out what catnip does to cats, they have isolated the substance in catnip that makes your feline friend so happy. The chemical is called nepetalactone and apparently it has an affect on only about 70 percent of cats. Even some big cats like lions are affected. (Now that would be something to see!) Cats also aren’t necessarily affected by catnip throughout their lives. Many kittens are immune to it, and some will even avoid catnip.
For cats that are affected by "the nip" it seems like the experience is something pretty great. When you give the susceptible feline a leaf of catnip, first you see the fur ripple as the cat catches that first whiff. Then the cat really gets into it, rolling on the leaves, and zooming around the room. If you have more than one cat, often they’ll chase each and play vigorously. Most of the big action is in the first 5 or 10 minutes. Either exhaustion or burn out sets in and the cat has to nap for a while afterward.
Apparently, the catnip-induced frenzy isn’t bad for the cat. Unlike illegal human drugs, which arguably have similar affects, no one has been able to find anything bad about kitty catnip joy. In fact, people have used catnip as a medicinal herb for centuries.
Since we are talking about cats here, yes, it is possible for a cat to get bored with catnip. If you buy every catnip toy in the store, your cat probably won’t feel the thrill anymore. But if you use it sparingly, it’s cheap entertainment.
One simple toy you can make if you have a bit of catnip is what a friend of mine used to call a "drug rug." You take an old washcloth and sprinkle it with dried catnip. For some reason, it seems like rolling on the drug rug is even more fun for the cat than the normal catnip thrills.
If your cat is susceptible to catnip, you may also discover as we did that catnip is used in some teas. We give our cats boxes to play with after they’re empty. We threw an empty box of Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer tea on the floor for the cats and noticed that one cat stuck her entire head in the box and wandered around.
After that dopey kitty performance, we read the ingredients. And sure enough, there’s catnip in there. You can’t fool a cat when it comes to catnip.