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Catnip is something that can be seen as somewhat of a mystery in the world of having a cat. We know that our cats love it, but there are a lot of questions that you may or may not have thought about when it comes to this plant and what your cat thinks of it. 

So what is this plant exactly and why do cats seem to love it so much?  Is it totally safe for your cat to be around? Is this more than just a pleasant plant to keep around your home and does it have any other functions or uses?

Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions about this household feline favorite, and what catnip actually is

What is Catnip? 

So what is catnip exactly and where does it come from? You may be surprised to hear that catnip is actually a perennial herb, that is a member of the mint family Labiatae. This plant was originally native to parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe, but now can be found growing all over the world. What may surprise you about this mint plant that your cat loves to eat is that it is actually a weed, making it easier for it to grow in unwelcoming or uninhabitable environments, in terms of landscape and climate. 

Does the plant have other uses?

This wildly durable weed it resistant to droughts, inclement weather, and can actually be used to repel deer and a variety of insects. This is why you will commonly find this specific weed as an ornamental component in gardens, to keep deer and pests away from plants. You can even extract an essential oil from this plant that will attract butterflies. 

Why do cats love it? 

All of the uses of this versatile plant may come as a shock to you, especially since it may be one of your cat’s favorite plants to be around. What’s even more interesting is that your cat doesn’t just love this minty plant because of the taste. It has a profound effect on your cat at the chemical level, which keeps it coming back for more. 

This minty herb contains a naturally occurring chemical called nepetalactone which can be found in the leaves and the stems of the plant. As your cat consumes it, this chemical binds to sensory neurons in your cat’s nasal cavity. As soon as this chemical binds to those sensory neurons, it, in turn, sends signals to your cat’s brain and activates various areas of the brain that affect different parts of their behavior and emotion. It generates a wave of positive emotion that can trigger your cat to roll in it, smell it, lick it, and even eat the plant. 

You may notice that the reaction your cat has compared to others can vary. Some cats will become excited with these sensations, running around and becoming playful, whereas others become relaxed, wanting to bask and lay down in the presence of the plant. There are a few factors that affect your cat’s reaction to this chemical cascade, and this can vary based on how much the cat has either inhaled or eaten along with the breed of your cat. It isn’t uncommon for cats that overindulge in this experience to become skittish and even a bit aggressive. 

As varied as these responses to this plant may be, research has shown us that a third of cats are totally unaffected by the neurological effects of catnip. 

Is catnip safe to use? 

This all bears the question, is this safe to use in your garden and around your home? Though this plant can have an effect on the behavior and demeanor of your cat, it is in no way harmful. In fact, it can be nice for your cat to have around while helping you keep deer and pests away from your garden. 

Can I buy it or grow my own?

You can buy catnip and almost every home improvement store, and it is totally safe to grow in your garden and around your home.

Can catnip be used for training?

You absolutely can use catnip for help with training your cat. Pet stores will often sell toys that are filled with catnip. You can even buy catnip sprays that you can use to spray treats or your cat’s scratching post. 

If you have additional questions or concerns, please feel free to contact our team at Longview Animal Hospital. We are happy to help you.