Why Cats Love Catnip


Catnip has a beguiling and activating effect on house cats. We explain to you why cats react to the smell of the plant and how you can take advantage of it.

Catnip is a magical attraction for cats. However, the effect of the hybrid catnip (Nepeta x faassenii, photo), which is most widespread in the gardens, is not as pronounced as that of the real catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Sexually mature cats, whether neutered or not, are magically attracted to catnip. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a domestic house cat or big cats like lions and tigers. They get euphoric, rub against the plant and eat the flowers and leaves. Even if the gardener does not like to see it – there is an extremely clever spreading strategy behind it: When cats wallow in the plant, the small so-called Klaus fruits stick to the fur. They fall to the ground no later than the next time they groom and are spread in this way by the cats.

One reason why house tigers fly to the plant seems to be clear by now: The plant contains, among other things, actinidine, which female, uncastrated cats excrete with their urine. This is probably the reason why hangovers in particular react strongly to catnip. The effect is less pronounced in young and very old cats. The greatest attraction seems to be the white-blooded real catnip (Nepeta cataria – in English “catnip”). The effect of the blue-flowered hybrid catnip, which is popular as a garden shrub, is not quite as pronounced.

A typical picture: Cats love to rub against toys that have been scented with catnip

Effect is not fully understood

Even if the scientists are almost certain that the ingredients actinidin and nepetalactone, two chemically closely related alkaloids, are the reason for the sometimes strong reaction of cats to the plant, this does not explain the different effects on the animals. If cats come into contact with a toy that has been scented with catnip, some will rub it into it. It is particularly noticeable that the toy also activates the play instinct in many cats – even in house cats, which are otherwise rather sluggish. With so-called catnip cushions, for example, they often romp around like wildly through the apartment and play with them very happily. Big cats like lions and tigers show a similar behavior.

Dried catnip is an excellent “carrot” for cats

If you encounter the plant in the garden, it behaves similarly: You rub against it or wallow in it completely. They also sometimes chew on the leaves and flowers. Because of this noticeable behavior, most experts now assume that catnip has a beguiling, if not intoxicating, effect on the velvet paws.

Catnip is non-toxic and extremely practical

Some cat owners fear that catnip is dangerous or even poisonous. It is not so. The effect is even very beneficial, as house tigers that are only kept in the apartment often accumulate too much fat. The substances increase the animal’s play instinct and urge to move. Cats can also be educated a bit with the help of the plant: Many cat owners probably know the problem that their beloved velvet paw has eaten a fool on some piece of furniture and it is much more exciting to sharpen your claws than on the specially provided scratching post. You can remedy this by treating the scratching post with catnip. For this purpose, for example, in pet stores there are sprays with catnip extracts as well as dried leaves and flowers. If you have catnip in the garden, you can of course also dry it yourself or rub it freshly over the desired scratching surface. The effect is not long in coming and the beloved piece of furniture is suddenly no longer interesting at all.

In addition to the trick for the scratching problem, catnip can also be used for another problem that cat owners are familiar with: the way to the vet usually becomes a difficult undertaking as soon as the beloved velvet paw sees the transport basket. Then even lazy cats become a whirlwind and do not see it at all to move into it. Here, too, catnip helps in two ways: First, it makes the cat basket so interesting that the cat has to look at it and go in on its own. Second, the scent of catnip has a calming effect on the animal after a while.

Cats like to take a nap in the orbit of catnip – apparently they can relax here particularly well

Catnip in the garden

The catnip (Nepeta) belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae). Depending on the type and variety, the perennials can reach a height of one meter and bloom white or light blue from July to September. Its slightly bitter, lemony scent is reminiscent of mint – hence the name. Catnip was used as a medicinal plant against colds and fevers in earlier times. The essential oils in the plant have an antispasmodic and detoxifying effect and are said to help with bronchitis and even toothache. For this, a tea is made from the dried leaves with hot but not boiling water.

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  2. Catnip. Some cats, like Sneed, absolutely adore catnip; mosquitoes don’t. Grow it in pots because it can spread rapidly. Susan Strahosky, Getty Images

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