You're quietly lounged in your cozy recliner and zeroing in on your new novel. Suddenly Toby comes barreling out of nowhere, pounces his catnip-filled mouse and shakes the whole house in the process. Some felines are not only sensitive to smelling catnip, they'll eat it. Don't despair, it's not dangerous.
What is It?
Catnip is an herb in the same family as mint. An essential oil called nepetalactone in catnip causes many felines to go berserk. Not all kitties respond to it, though. Whether or not your frisky buddy reacts to catnip is an inherited trait. Only about 50 percent of purring furballs actually have this gene, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
Sniffing vs. Eating
Sniffing catnip often has the greatest effect on catnip-sensitive felines. Once Toby gets a whiff of his prized mouse toy, he'll seem intoxicated by rolling around, rubbing against everything in sight and "talking" in his own way. It's unknown exactly why catnip has this effect, but one theory is that catnip releases happy pheromones, putting Toby in a temporary state of bliss. He'll associate the aroma with feeling good and may want to nibble on it as a way to enhance the effect. However, eating catnip has the opposite effect in most cats. Rather than acting erratic and spastic, he'll become very mellow and relaxed.
Catnip doesn't have a long-term effect. Whether he sniffs it or snacks on dried catnip flakes, the side effects of catnip usually only last about 10 minutes, the Humane Society notes. Toby will lose interest and find something else to keep him occupied -- like a nap. After a few hours, he'll "recover" from his catnip-crazed state and may reignite his interest in his favorite feathery toys.
Dried catnip doesn't last forever and eventually loses its potency. Keep dried catnip in an airtight bag and replace his old catnip toys when he loses interest.
If Toby truly seems to enjoy snacking on dried catnip here and there, get him his own fresh plant as an alternative. Fresh catnip plants offer your mischievous companion something else to chew on. Once he nibbles the leaves, they become bruised, releasing lots of nepetalactone. He'll stick his face in it, paw at the leaves and offer you plenty of entertainment. Many pet stores sell fresh catnip plants and you can replant them in potters to keep them alive for long periods of time in your home. You'll probably want to avoid placing a fresh catnip plant right in your garden, though, because it grows like a weed and may overpower your other plants.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.