Catnip and Cat Grasses

Catnip is a harmless perennial herb belonging to the mint family, Labiatae. Other members include mint, oregano, sage, and basil. It is also known as catmint, catrup, and catwort. Nepeta cataria is now native in North America and Canada after being introduced from its native Mediterranean region.

The active ingredient in catnip is nepetalactone which induces a psychosexual response in both male and female cats. Nepetalactone is most concentrated within the leaves.

About 80% of all cats possess the genetic trait. Cats possess a unique receptor for the nepetalactone molecule. This receptor is located in the vomeronasal organ, a structure positioned above the palate and present in many mammals. Thus, smelling the catnip is what causes cats to react to it, ingestion alone has no effect. Reactive cats may not show a response if they are too young. Generally, between the age of three to six months is when you’ll get the first reaction. Senior cats may no longer show a response as well. Some do not develop the taste until several years old. Some cats require a stress-free environment before they will allow themselves to indulge. Most lions, pumas, and leopards react to catnip but tigers do not. The enticing odor of catnip oil triggers certain nerves within the cat’s brain. Many cats will roll and rub on catnip, purring loudly. Others roll, lick, rub, drool, jump, and run and some cats wallow in it, eating it and showing inebriated behavior for 5 – 15 minutes. After the initial “high”, most cats sleep it off or remain pacified or calm for several hours. There are no unpleasant side effects. About an hour’s removal from the catnip is required before the second dose is effective. Not all catnip plants are created equal, different plants have different amounts of nepetalactone present. Catnip pellets are usually about 50% stronger than leaves.

Catnip is nontoxic and non-addicting. If a large quantity of fresh catnip is consumed there may be some vomiting or diarrhea but this is rare. Just limit or withhold catnip from your cat until they recover.

Nepeta cataria

Catnip is very easy to grow and if you live in a temperate zone, it will take over your garden! Be prepared to have wandering cats enjoy it if it is left unprotected. Many people plant it and cover it with chicken wire if they have many wandering cats in their neighborhood. You can grow catnip from seed or buy a grown plant from your local nursery, grocery store, or pet store. Catnip prefers bright sun. It is bug-free and many universities are now studying its effect on different species of insects. Catnip is a natural repeller of cockroaches. Many people plant catnip in amongst their flowering plants, borders and hedges to keep harmful insects away such as aphids, mites, caterpillars, beetle, and ants. Chris Peterson and Joel Coats of Iowa State University tested nepetalactone, the active ingredient in catnip, it repelled roaches at doses only 1 percent as high at the widely used repellent called DEET. Nepetalactone has also been tested on flies which it killed in its rarer more potent form. At this time there are no cockroach repellents on the market. Catnip is also said to repel rats and mice. A strong infusion can be sprayed on crops to keep vermin and insects off of them. Freshly picked catnip leaves can be rubbed onto your pet’s coat to drive fleas away. This must be repeated often.

Catnip was cultivated for cats in Greece and Rome and in 1265 became common in English gardens and kitchens. Meats were rubbed before cooking with catnip leaves and they were also sprinkled in mixed green salads as well as being used in sauces, soups, and stews. Catnip tea was the tea of choice before Chinese tea became widely available. Catnip was first written about in 1597 as an herb that relieved headaches, stomach aches, cramps, and stress and it was also used as a sleeping aid. The colonists brought seeds with them to America in the 1600’s. The Appalachia and Pennsylvania Dutch people still used catnip tea as a mild sedative, and for relief of colic in infants. Many people also use catnip tea to treat colds, flu, and fevers. In France, catnip is used to flavor foods. It has also been used to treat cancer, scurvy, flatulence, and nausea, it induces menstruation so pregnant women should not drink catnip tea. Catnip is a good source of Vitamins A and C. Studies conducted in the late 1970’s concluded that catnip is a potent sleep-inducer for humans. It is also currently used as an analgesic, anti-spasmotic, astringent, and especially good for chronic bronchitis.

Many cats like to munch on grasses in the wild. Most cats prefer grasses over plants. If your indoor cat is munching on houseplants, it is a good idea to purchase cat grass kits or seeds that you can plant. This way your plants are safe and so is your cat since many houseplants are toxic to them. Cat grass should never be fertilized since many fertilizers contain harmful chemicals. It is also not a good idea to take grass cuttings from your lawn for the same reason as well as contamination from pesticides.

Homegrown cat grass

You can buy kits that come complete with container, soil, and seeds, to plant yourself and others where you just have to add water. The most cost effective, however is to just buy your own organic soil (never take soil from your backyard, it may be infected with parasites, chemicals, etc.) and grass seed from a pet shop. Most cats prefer oat, barley, Kentucky bluegrass, or wheat grass over rye grass, but any will do. Make sure the seeds are not treated if you buy them from a nursery. Any grass seed you buy from a pet shop or seed that is specified for cats is safe.

Cat grass germinates within two days and grows to about 6 inches within five days. It is very easy to care for but does not last longer than about two – three weeks when it starts to wither and turn yellow. The best bet is to start a grass container and after the shoots are about two inches high, start another container. You’ll have constant turnover and the kitties will never be without cat grass.

Cat grass will grow in temperate to tropical zones and be healthy all summer long. Growing cat grass in the winter in your house is the only option during that season if you want to keep a supply going. Any container will work, but the best allow drainage. Fill the container up with soil to about an inch below the rim. Sprinkle the seed and cover with soil to the rim. Pat down lightly and water sparingly. When the soil becomes dry to the touch, water again. Allow your cats to graze on it at free will unless you notice they are eating too much. You don’t want them to miss the nutritional ingredients in their cat food if they eat too much grass and less food. Eating too much grass can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Restrict them access by allowing them ten minute feedings once or twice per day.

Scientists are unsure why most cats eat a small amount of grass per day since they are obligate (true) carnivores. Some suggest that it adds roughage to the diet, some say that it is a natural laxative to help with the passage of hairballs and gastric discomfort.

Information on this site is for general information purposes only and is provided without warranty or guarantee of any kind. This site is not intended to replace professional advice from your own veterinarian and nothing on this site is intended as a medical diagnosis or treatment. Any questions about your animal’s health or diet should be directed to your veterinarian.

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