From mountain lions to bobcats to tigers to jungle lions that roam the savanna, the Felidae family is a big fan of the lively plant we call catnip — also known as Nepeta cataria.
Cataria is even Latin for a cat. But perhaps there is no bigger fan of the nip than our adorable and refined housecats. Catnip is well known for causing our domestic cats to go…well, a bit kooky.
Catnip is incredibly appealing to cats, causing them to seek it out after just catching one whiff of it in the air. Once inhaled, it is common for a cat to roll around, chew, bite, lick, meow, and quickly run around it.
Catnip’s euphoric effects are short-lived, however, causing most cats that react to the plant to calm down and even zonk out after eating it. While typically given to our felines after the plant has been dried and cured, more and more pet owners are switching to its essential oil form.
Catnip essential oil is derived from the leaf and flower of Nepeta cataria, commonly done through steam distillation. If you’ve never given your cat oil catnip before, then both you and your kitty are in for a treat!
What Are Nepeta Cataria Essential Oils?
Origins: Europe, Asia, and Africa
Botanical Name: Nepeta cataria
Plant Family: Lamiaceae
Part Of Plant-Derived From: Flowers, Leaves, and Stems (steam distilled plant part)
Aroma: Minty, Lemony, and Herbaceous
Color: Amber / Yellow / Orange
Consistency: Viscous but runny
Why Cats Love Catnip
The reason many cats like or just plain downright love catnip is that it produces the aromatic chemical or terpenoid, nepetalactone.
When our cats get a whiff of this chemical, it immediately binds to receptors in their nasal cavity, resulting in what looks pretty much like a state of euphoric ecstasy. New research seems to confirm what many have long believed…catnip does make a cat high.
Nepetalactone is usually enough to trigger a cat into wanting to eat the plant matter it’s in. Once that happens, other compounds like the terpene, pinene in catnip, will affect their nervous system, which often releases a calming sensation across the body, giving catnip biphasic effects.
Along with olfactory bulb stimulation, which affects the amygdala or midbrain region of the brain, it also affects the pituitary gland, which is seemingly critical to our cats’ loving the plant. We know this because cats under the age of 3-6 months — who haven’t gone through puberty — are large, if not, entirely unaffected by catnip.
Thanks to recent research, we now know that cats are, in particular, attracted and affected by iridoids nepetalactone and nepetalactol, which are linked to repelling mosquitoes. The leading theory now as to why cats developed an attraction to catnip is hypothesized that by rubbing against the plants, a cat gives themselves an essential oil coat that helps from mosquitoes and their bites.
Reported Benefits and Uses
Catnip oil benefits in humans have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration for therapeutic use in humans to be intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness.
However, humans like felines have long been drawn to the smells and aromatherapy properties of catnip and both species handle the herb quite well.
There are lots of ways to use catnip — both for yourself and your kitty. So, to find out which way is the right one for you, let’s check out catnip’s therapeutic benefits for both us, and, of course, our felines.
Help Your Cat Relax
When your cat first gets a smell of catnip, it’s hard to imagine that this is a plant that can help promote relaxation and calmness. But within a few minutes after ingesting, you’re likely to notice your cat’s demeanor has done a complete 180.
Catnip’s sedative effects — which usually only occur when eaten instead of simply sniffed — are perfect for helping your cat feel relaxed. Heading to the veterinarian? Throw some catnip in their kennel about 10 minutes before leaving.
Your cat gets into something they shouldn’t and needs that rare and dreadful bath? Scatter catnip around the house leading to the bathtub can really help start the process off on the right paw.
Mosquito and Pest Repellent
Planting catnip in your garden is a great way to deter annoying insects like mosquitoes, mites, ticks, and crop-damaging insects like aphids and squash bugs while attracting beneficial ones like butterflies. It’s also deer-resistant, though definitely not cat-resistant.
Compounds in catnip like thymol are said to be at least as effective as the ones in common mosquito repellents like DEET. And besides your cat really appreciating all the fresh catnip, by rolling around in it, they’ll give themselves a mosquito repellent coat.
With lovely lavender-colored flowers, catnip is a great plant to just hang up in your house to dry, giving you the ability to break off individual stems for your cat to enjoy whenever you like. One note is please be careful planting catnip outside.
A rapid-growing plant that will cover your garden in petals, catnip is considered an invasive plant species. Painfully easy to grow and generously bountiful, you’ll only need to grow one to maybe two plants per cat. You may find it easier to buy catnip essential oil and put it in a spray bottle for outside use instead.
Help With Training
Need help getting your cat’s attention or need them to stop scratching the furniture? Then catnip is about to become your best friend. Rubbing a new toy in catnip or rubbing it on their scratching posts is always a great idea.
Compounds in catnip can help speed up the healing process, with catnip being used for everything from reducing pain to lowering inflammation to relaxing tense muscles. As well, catnip is commonly used in both humans and in cats to help with digestion, promote deeper sleep, and prevent infections thanks to its antibacterial properties.
You can often come across tea blends that incorporate the minty plant for help with issues such as stomach cramps, indigestion, fevers, hives, and anxiety. Using catnip to help treat, cure, or prevent illness in humans has largely fallen off in recent times due to modern medicine and new holistic treatments like CBD.
Rich in vitamins C and A, magnesium, flavonoids, and tannins, it’s easy to see why our cat’s favorite indulgent treat is also incredibly nutritional for them. These vitamins and minerals can help with age-related cell damage, protect eyesight, and reduce skin problems.
One thing to note if you are only using catnip essential oil to spray on inanimate objects is while your cat will only reap some of the benefits this plant has to offer. However, in most cases, it’s safe if you directly give your cat catnip essential oil.
OK, there is no getting away from this one. Catnip’s greatest feature or benefit is probably its ability to turn our cats into crazy little clowns that provide us with endlessly amusing entertainment. But catnip isn’t just great for entertaining us. Catnip is brilliant for keeping your cat physically and mentally active.
Using Catnip Essential Oil Safely
Catnip is extremely safe to give to your feline and very commonplace. However, when you stop and think about how high it can get some cats, it makes you wonder if there are any notable things to worry about. We are happy to tell you though, that this is one drug that is A-OK for your cat.
It’s Not Addictive Nor Hallucinogenic
While activating the opioid reward system, catnip is not addictive to cats. In fact, while new research shows essentially every cat is affected by catnip in some way, after about 10 minutes, a cat will become completely uninterested in it. It will then take around an hour or two before they become susceptible to its effects again.
As well, while catnip is a drug with the euphoric effects it can have on a cat, it does make them see or hear things. In other words, it is not a hallucinogenic drug. And this misunderstanding can lead some to label catnip as potentially cruel.
But it’s extremely unlikely for a cat to have any issue with the plant for a variety of reasons. They are incredibly good at handling it and largely because they will quickly become immune to its effects.
While catnip isn’t addictive and most cats quickly become resistant to its effects, your cat can accidentally consume too much catnip. While non-toxic, with it being impossible for a cat to overdose and die on catnip, too much can cause an upset stomach, resulting in vomiting, gas, and diarrhea.
The great majority of cats are good about walking away from catnip before they’ve had more than enough. Some cats do tend to overindulge, and the simple solution for that is just keeping large quantities of nip out of their reach.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are traditionally oils extracted from plants to be used for aromatherapy. It’s important to note that with essential oils, the term “essential” does not indicate that it’s essential to an organism’s survival as it does when describing essential vitamins and minerals.
Essential vitamins and minerals are ones an organism must get in their environment (through diet or the sun) because they do not produce them on their own.
These include includes vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, and the B vitamins: thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxal (B6), cobalamin (B12), biotin, and folate/folic acid. Along with minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, sulfur, cobalt, copper, fluoride, manganese, and selenium.
Single essential Oils
Common essential oils include lavender, peppermint, lemon, frankincense, and chamomile. However, humans have successfully extracted around 500 different plants, giving us many essential oil extractions. Especially when we start combining them together. But this is actually a pretty small number when you compare it to the fact that there are over 10,000 different aromatic plants in the world.
Catnip Essential Oil Infusions and Alternatives
Nepeta cataria isn’t the only plant and essential oil that can make your feline go head over heels. As well, you often find these essential oils blend well together for a super concoction of therapeutic benefits.
CBD Essential Oils With Catnip
One of the fastest-growing helpful supplements to give to cats, now rivaling catnip, is CBD oil derived from hemp plants. Like marijuana plants, hemp has a lot of medical benefits, however, unlike them, it’s largely free of the main chemical that causes a high.
This makes them safe for not only people who want to avoid marijuana’s side effects but also for our pets. As well, this is the reason these products are legal in the United States, United Kingdom, and many other places in the world.
Able to help reduce anxiety, inflammation, and support general repair and wellness of the body, studies show cats, dogs, horses, and other mammals can all enjoy the same benefits from CBD.
With a grassy and somewhat nutty flavor and smell, while most dogs love the taste of CBD oil, our feline friends can be a little more refined. To help, CBD makers often blend it with catnip essential oil, making it an irresistible treat that is wonderful for their health. Even better, CBD can help reinforce catnip’s anti-anxiety effects and healing properties.
Like catnip oil, CBD oil is safe for cats with very low side effects, such as an upset stomach, which are most often induced when too much is given. CBD is considered a much more potent drug than catnip, however, and you’ll want to follow the dosage instructions recommended by the makers of the CBD.
Like with other supplements, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate pure CBD essential oils. So make sure to always read the reviews of the product and company before buying. As well, confirm that the makers provide a Certificate of Analysis, which is a third-party report on its safety, purity, and quality — most often easiest to find on the maker’s website.
While not as popular as catnip, many feline owners find their cats love the plant silver vine as much, if not more so than catnip. Silver vine, derived from dried fruit gulls, appears to work similarly to the nip where it activates olfactory opioid receptors — this time with the chemical iridoids nepetalactol.
And besides often being more intense in its ability to turn our cats into drooling, cheek rubbing, rolling clowns, silver vine can elicit a euphoric response in cats that don’t appear to experience one with catnip. You can purchase silver vine just by itself, but it’s also popular and completely safe to mix it with catnip, and as such, you’ll commonly find them together.
Growing somewhat similar in structure and appearance to catnip, catmint (Nepeta x faassenii) shares similar digestive properties as catnip, however, it will not stimulate a cat, causing them to get high. Because of the closeness in their names and appearance, catmint is often mistakenly used to refer to catnip.
One really neat thing about giving your cat catmint is unlike spearmint or peppermint, catmint is completely safe to give to your cat. Most members in the Lamiaceae (mint) family, which houses all mint plants, are toxic to both cats and dogs, catnip and catmint are rare exceptions. Our cats are probably pretty happy about the former being safe!
Catnip Oil For Dogs
While not crazy in love with catnip like our felines, our puppers can enjoy many of the benefits that come from this kooky plant. Unlike in cats, a dog will not get high from catnip nor feel any of its euphoric effects. However, some will still enjoy catnip’s mild sedative and anti-anxiety properties. And just like cats and us, catnip is completely safe for dogs.
Fun fact, anise, the black licorice-like tasting seed, is said to have similar effects on dogs that nepeta cataria oil/catnip essential oil does on cats.
Final Thoughts On Nepeta Cataria Oils
Anxiety reliever, insect repellent, training tool, and a natural source of comedy-inducing entertainment, with its potential benefits for every feline out there, catnip oil is a great addition for your furry family member.
Remember, catnip oil blends well with CBD essential oils, making for one powerhouse of a beneficial supplement.
Also, don’t feel discouraged if your cat isn’t interested in catnip. Most cats will not notably respond to the nip until they are 3-6 months or have entered puberty.
And while it was once thought around 1 out of 3 adult cats were unaffected by the plant, new research may indicate pretty much every cat will react in some way to it. Before you purchase a product with a catnip in it, always search for customer reviews. As well, look for deals on shipping or on any other service so you can save money.