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Catnip FAQ

What is catnip?

budz2004harvest.jpg

"Catnip (Nepeta cataria), is a member of the Mint family of aromatic herbs. It is a common aromatic herb of the high deserts of North America, and was naturalized in Canada from it's indigenous roots in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean."

Picture of catnip in the field before harvesting courtesy Kooky Kat Catnip Company

When was catnip discovered?

"Catnip has been used in herbal remedies on humans since at least the 15th century. In fact, catnip tea was the most commonly consumed herbal beverage in Europe prior to the importation of teas from the orient."

Is catnip safe for my cat?

"A chemical compound called nepetalactone, the primary constituent in the essential oil of catnip, induces a harmless physiological reaction in some cats."

How will my cat respond to catnip?

"(The) physiological reactions in some cats...has been studied extensively, and has been found to induce a psychosexual response in both male and female cats. One might say that catnip has an aphrodisiac effect." Wondering what kind of cat behavior you will see? Your cat may have any or all of the following catnip effects:
-- meow and roll in the catnip
-- rub their cheeks against the spot where catnip has been sprinkled
-- get into silly positions such as on their back with paws extended, gazing up at the ceiling
-- run around the room like a kitten playing with its invisible friend
-- settle into a dreamy, sleepy silly pose and not move for awhile.

Cats can be very possessive of their catnip or their catnip toys, and some cats have been aggressive after use. If your cat does become aggressive with catnip use, stop using catnip and consider trying an alternative such as honeysuckle or valerian toys.

Why didn't my kitten/cat respond to the catnip?

The response to catnip is an inherited "autosomal dominant trait" -- in other words, it is genetic and your kitten or cat must have inherited the appropriate genes.

Interesting Catnip Fact: "Cats which have a genome originating in geographical areas where catnip is not indigenous, like Southeast Asia, typically do not respond to catnip."

Not only must your kitten or cat have inherited the right genes, they must be old enough to respond to catnip's lure. "Approximately 15% of all cats do not respond to catnip. Cats which are less than 6 months old (not sexually mature) almost never respond to catnip regardless of their genes."

How much catnip should I give at a time?

Just a pinch or two will be enough to elicit a change in cat behavior. To activate the catnip, crush the dried buds or leaves between your fingers and then sprinkle onto the floor, into their cat bed, onto their cat furniture or scratching post, onto a favorite toy.
"Never put catnip into your cats food. This may upset their diet and eating habits. It is fine for kitty to eat catnip but, always be cautions of catnip which includes the stalks." Look for catnip leaves and flowers that have been finely ground, or quickly inspect your catnip, looking for and removing any long or hard stalk pieces.

For the 'plain brown tabby' Alix P. Curl, a good pinch of nip on the floor for her to roll in and lick is usually as good as a morning cup of coffee for me. If using catnip pellets, offer just a few pellets. If using catnip buds, crush the buds between your fingers -- just a little pinch is enough. Catnip buds are the most potent form of catnip (next to the essential oil itself!).

How should I store catnip?

"All essential oil bearing herbs will lose their potency over time. The primary reason for this is that nepetalactone is UV photosensitive. Store catnip in the freezer to maximize its freshness." We suggest as an alternative to the freezer if that is not convenient for you, using a container such as a resealable tin or a solid bit of crockery, to keep out the UV rays. Keep the tin or ceramic pot in a cool, dry place. We do not recommend using a clear glass treat container since this will not block UV rays.

Can catnip go stale?

Yes and No!

On the Yes side:
Nepetalactone, contained within the essential oil of catnip, is UV sensitive. So over time, with exposure to light, it can lose some potency. See the tips above for how best to store your catnip.

On the No side:
"Cats respond to catnip in concentrations approaching 1 part per billion." So it does not take much! In fact, Kooky Kat Catnip Company's human founder, James Black, can attest that a research sample of catnip from 1910, still was potent enough to get very full attention from the feline founder of his company, Felix the Kat.

What is organic catnip?

Organic catnip is catnip grown under controlled conditions without the use of pesticides. Plain Brown Tabby Toys and Treats offers both catnip that is certified organic, and all- natural catnips grown without the use of pesticides.

One of our suppliers has been Kooky Kat Catnip Company, and it is their informative web site that has supplied the quoted scientific information for this FAQ. Here is what they have to say about organic catnip.
"If the label claims ANY of the following 100% certified organic, or certified organic, or 100% organic, or organic, all terms mean the same thing, that the product you are buying is in fact truly a certified organic product. If the catnip is certified organic then the manufacturer will have a certificate which they must send you upon your request. The certificate will indicate the nature of the crop, and the products in which it is manufactured."

Why is certified organic better?

"Catnip is extremely common in the wild throughout the Eastern USA, Midwest and into Washington state. There are millions of plants within this ecosystem. Catnip prefers to grow in dry, semi arid places, and can be found along hedge rows and fence lines. Also catnip is abundant along railway lines and within abandoned waste places, like old buildings, and dump sites. This leads to an obvious caution --
NEVER BUY WILD CRAFTED CATNIP UNLESS IT COMES FROM A TRUSTED PROFESSIONAL HERB COLLECTOR.

Waste places and railway lines are NO place to collect material for ingestion. Creosote is commonly used to weather treat railway ties, and leachate from the ties will appear in any biomass growing along the line.
If a catnip product is acquired from an unknown source, or is not certified organic, it MAY contain pesticides or other plant material which is not catnip."

What are catnip buds?

The buds are the flowering portion, the blossums, of the catnip plant are the most potent part of the catnip plant. This is the caviar of catnip products!

What is catnip oil?

"Catnip oil is the essential oil of the catnip plant, produced within specialized glandular hairs located on the upper epidermis of the plant."

Why give my cat catnip?

-- catnip can be used to treat your cat, encouraging a normally placid cat to change behavior and unleash its silly side
-- it may relax your cat (envision your cat napping on it's favorite catnip scented or filled bed)
-- it can be used to train your cat -- placing a freshly catnip scented scratching post near a favorite couch corner may help your couch survive
-- it may encourage your cat to exercise -- by getting your cat to play with a favorite catnip toy. Some catnip toys, by design, will be just held between the cat's paws, rabbit-kicked and licked to "death". Others, those in ball form or with corners for easy grip with the teeth, will encourage batting, tossing, chasing and a "faster than a slow stroll" pace.

Can I rejuvenate a favorite, older catnip toy or that catnip bed I bought last year?

Yes! We recommend that you either refresh your toy by storing it overnight in a baggie with fresh (or from your supply of properly stored catnip) catnip, or spray it with an excellent catnip oil spray such as From the Field Catnip Spray Rejuvenator.

If you wish to put the appeal back into a catnip bed, just spritz with catnip oil spray, or sprinkle lightly with fresh catnip. Even refillable catnip beds with their new filling of fresh catnip, can be further enhanced by a spritz of catnip oil spray.

Lions and Tigers...

Tigers, cougars, bobcats, lions and lynx also respond to nepetalactone, the active ingredient in catnip. August 2010 This has been updated as my original information was that Tigers did not respond.

Text used in quotes is used with permission, and was generously shared with us by James Black, owner of Kooky Kat Catnip Company. Plain Brown Tabby Toys and Treats is pleased to carry organic catnip and other fine catnip products, catnip, valerian spiced catnip and honeysuckle toys. This FAQ is copyright Plain Brown Tabby Toys and Treats 2002 - 2014, with other copyrights retained by their original author, and may not be reproduced, in whole or part without the consent of the authors.