Since catnip is actually a relative of the marijuana plant (in a far-off manner) the effect can be loosely compared to the high of marijuana. The purpose of giving your cat catnip is for the cat’s entertainment and enjoyment of the natural high. Catnip is an herb belonging to the Labiatae family and contains nepetalactone, which is the active chemical in catnip responsible for your cat’s funny behavior. It is closely related to an active ingredient in female cat urine (which is why we must keep our cat Lilly far away from catnip. She will “mark” whenever she smells it. This seems to be a very rare behavior, though.)
When you introduce catnip to your cat, he/she will probably smell it extensively at first, and then start to rub against it, maybe bat it and play with it and eventually even eat it. (Consuming catnip is perfectly safe, although too much may cause some stomach upset in some cats.) Some cats will suddenly not seem like themselves at all, temporarily being more loving or conversely more aggressive, depending on the cat. Until you observe the effects firsthand with your cat, it’s impossible to say how your individual cat will react. A small percentage of cats never react at all. Likewise, kittens not yet fully developed likely will not react either.
Catnip is entirely safe to give to your cat. Typically, a catnip session will last approximately 15 minutes and then your cat will walk away. Also, if given access to catnip too often or for too long, you may notice a diminishment of your cat’s response to the catnip. In this case, you can just put the catnip away for a day or two and then resume on a more limited schedule.
How To Use Catnip To Entertain Your Cat:
1. Use it to renew your cat’s interest in an old toy. Just by rubbing some catnip into the nap of an old toy, you can capture your cat’s attention and excitement in that toy again.
2. Use it to direct your cat’s attention to an appropriate scratching post. By rubbing catnip on your cat’s scratchy post or pad, you are sending a signal to your cat to “come scratch here”!
3. Use it to burn off pent up energy. Anyone observing a catnip session will attest to the long, contented nap that will result immediately after.
4. Use it to entertain yourself. A cat in the throes of a catnip high is truly an entertaining sight indeed!
Human History of Catnip Use:
Herbalists have used catnip for many centuries as a treatment for colic, headache, fever, toothache, colds, and spasms. Catnip is an excellent sleep-inducing agent (as with valerian, in certain individuals it can act as a stimulant). Before Chinese tea became widely available, catnip tea was very popular.