Sometimes the road to good health is filled with the word, “no”. I think clients get tired of us veterinarians telling them to not do this or not feed that to their pets. Well, today I have good news for cat lovers. I am a fan of catnip. So are my cats. What is it that makes this mint so irresistible to our feline friends? It is the chemical nepetalactone. When inhaled, it results in the majority of our cats having a good ol’ time. This has not gone unnoticed by the pet industry. Many cat toys and cat furniture (“cat trees”) and cat scratching posts are laden with catnip to increase their attractiveness to felines.
At my old house I grew catnip in a big planter. In the summer it would get chest high. I started with a small starter plant that I got in the herb section of the grocery store. That little start went crazy from there. I thought I might have to buy a new plant each year, but it actually re-seeded itself. If it snowed in the winter I would bring the planter into the garage. I had catnip galore. It is a sturdy little mint. I often took it into the clinic where I then worked as a gift for the boarding cats and the cats that lived at the clinic. Heck, as I write this I think I shall plant some catnip in the yard of my new home.
Most cats act goofy, happy and relaxed when they inhale the scent of catnip. Some may get excited and roll around. An occasional cat may get grumpy or anxious (if your cat has such an adverse reaction you wouldn’t give catnip again). Some cats don’t react at all. Supposedly kittens do not react until 2 to 3 months of age. You just don’t know how your cat will react until you try. Overall, most cats react favorably.
You can offer it fresh or dry. My own cats often eat it when I give it to them freshly picked but tend to roll in it when I give them the dried catnip. If I give my cats the fresh leaves I will rub the leaves in my fingers to release the oil and increase the aroma. If you grow your own, you might consider planting it under a bird cage or place a tomato cage around it or even consider a hanging basket. One of my former neighbor cats used to come roll in my planter. I found that once I put a tomato cage around it she could enjoy my catnip to her heart’s content without destroying my plant! I once gave a catnip start to a friend whose cat promptly gobbled it up roots and all before she had configured a way to protect the wee plant. To dry it you simply pick it, lay it out on a flat surface in a dry area (where your cats can’t get to it) then rotate it now and then until it dries out.
My motto for my own healthcare is to not deprive myself, but enjoy most things in moderation. Overall, you can’t vilify catnip. It has virtually no calories nor carbs. The effects last only 15 to 30 minutes, and then cats won’t react again to the smell of catnip for an hour or two. There is no contraindication for our diabetic felines. It might be best avoided in pregnant or epileptic cats until research (if ever) is done on how catnip might affect fetuses or the seizure threshold in cats, but even that is an unlikely risk. In general, catnip is a lovely treat to give your cat, even your diabetic cat.
NOTE: Consult your Veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.