Spring is here and the warming weather is the ideal time to give your cat a treat by planting catnip.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is cheap, readily available and easy to grow from seeds or seedlings. It is sometimes found under different names including cats wort, cat wort, or cat mint. You can grow it indoors or in the garden and it can be dried and stored over winter and still retain it’s attractive properties.
Kittens show no reaction to catnip and about one third of cats never develop an interest. But even if that is the case with your cat you will still have a pleasant, robust plant that is effective in repelling insects including cockroaches and mosquitoes.
However, cats that like it, generally love it. They will rub themselves happily in the plant, or chew on the leaves. After ten or fifteen minutes they will then wander off, relaxed and satisfied.
As well as being a pleasant addition to their environment, you can make creative use of catnip in managing your cat.
By controlling access you can extract some extra benefits such as:
- providing enrichment for an indoor cat by periodically hiding it around the house or in a toy
- introducing them to a new toy (like that expensive cat wheel you just bought) by placing catnip on or around it
- de-stressing them in advance of some potentially stressful event like being in a vehicle, going to the vet or being bathed
- re-igniting their interest in the old cat scratch pole and away from your new leather sofa
- gently introducing them to a new person or location.
If this sounds good but you lack the space or the green thumb, then you can buy preparations like sprays or the dried herb that have the same effect from pet stores and online.
There are few downsides to catnip. It has been used in traditional herbal remedies for humans for centuries and its effects are well studied. The active ingredient, nepetalactone, is not addictive and causes no harm or long-term behaviour changes. There are rare reports of cats getting tummy upsets from over-eating the plant and of males becoming aggressive, possibly because the active ingredient mimics the pheromones involved in mating. In either case, just discontinue the use and chat to your vet.
Finally, be thoughtful where you put your plant. An over-enthusiastic cat may cause cat or plant a harmful fall if placed in a high location such as a window sill or balcony.