Catnip is an herb that is naturally appealing to our feline friends, eliciting a variety of amusing reactions from them. And, aside from making them bounce or roll around with joy, catnip can also have some medicinal purposes, and even aggressive or anxious cats can benefit from its calming effects.
Catnip is available on the market in many forms. It can come as fresh plants, powder, dried leaves, incorporated into toys, or even in stick form.
Of these, catnip sticks are probably one of the most popular choices due to their convenience. Most cats enjoy nibbling one of these sticks as it releases the flavor of the catnip plant. It is also a great toothbrush for your furry friend, as it effectively cleans her gums and teeth while she chews.
Despite the advertised benefits of using catnip sticks, a lot of fur parents are concerned about whether these products are completely safe for cats, especially if used in excess. Let us take a closer look at how catnip sticks work, and whether these products can cause any adverse side effects.
Catnip sticks – what are they?
Catnip is a type of leafy green plant that belongs to the same plant family as mint and gives off a powerful aroma that drives cats crazy. Scientifically known as Nepeta cataria, the plant produces a compound called nepetalactone, which is what causes behavioral changes in most cats. It does this by activating the “happy receptors” in your cat’s brain.
However, catnip does not have the same effect on all felines. In fact, around 30% of cats may not like catnip at all. Experts believe that this is mainly hereditary – some cats lack the “catnip gene”, and the substance will not have any mood-elevating effect on them.
Due to its calming effect on cats, catnip has become available in a number of different forms, one of these being catnip sticks.
Catnip sticks are popular cat treats or toys derived from the stems of catnip plants. When a cat chews one of these sticks, it releases a flavor that the cat finds irresistible. This effect is the same as that of other forms of catnip, such as powder, dried leaves, fresh plants, or sprays.
Catnip sticks are natural and safe for felines. At the right dosage, they are approved by vets and should not harm your cat. However, as an added precaution, make sure that you supervise your cat whenever she plays with catnip sticks. If the stick is chewed or destroyed, replace it with a new one to avoid splinters.
Why do cats love catnip sticks?
Cats love catnip due the effects of its main ingredient, nepetalactone, which stimulates their sensory neurons. It is believed by some to mimic feline sex pheromones. Many cats respond to this by exhibiting erratic behavior such as rolling around, rubbing themselves on everything, or flipping over. Other effects are playfulness, vocalizing, and salivating. Some cat owners also report their pets making funny faces after sniffing the active chemical.
At the same time, consuming catnip makes most cats feel more relaxed. Ingesting it works like a sedative – it can cause fatigue and sleepiness. That is why catnip is a great option to help manage a cat that becomes aggressive or anxious.
How long does a catnip high last?
Depending on the strength of the product and how your cat responds, the effects of catnip generally last about 10 to 15 minutes. This short time should be enough for the product to serve its purpose – that is, to calm your cat during stressful situations. A catnip stick is intended to be short-lived, so that the cat will not become too obsessed or ‘high’ on the substance.
Too much catnip will not kill your cat
Although catnip is generally safe and non-toxic for cats, a lot of owners are concerned about whether there is such a thing as overdosing, and whether it can cause dangerous side effects, especially catnip is used regularly for play sessions or stress relief.
The good news is that cats will need to consume a very large amount of catnip before it can cause any harmful side effects. While too much catnip will not endanger your cat’s life, excessive consumption can cause nausea and vomiting. It will take around an hour or two for the effects of this excess to completely wear off.
As long as you supervise your cat’s use of catnip sticks and other catnip products, it should not cause any negative side effects. Always follow the advised dosage to avoid the risk of overdosing.
Furthermore, your cat is unlikely to overdose on catnip as she will stop when she has had enough of it. Catnip sticks are also designed to be given one at a time – just enough for the cat to have something to enjoy and nibble to clean her teeth.
Are catnip sticks safe for kittens?
Although catnip sticks are designed for adult cats, they do not cause any adverse effects in young kittens. They are completely safe, even if your kitten decides to consume a whole stick. However, kittens do not respond to catnip before the age of six to 12 months, so give your kitty time to mature before introducing her to this wonder.
Are catnip sticks safe for dogs?
So, you are a big family with both cats and dogs living under the same roof. While your feline companion enjoys chewing on her catnip stick, your curious dog approaches and tries to take a bite. Will chewing catnip sticks cause any adverse effects on your canine friend?
The good news is that catnip sticks are completely safe for both cats and dogs. This should give you some peace of mind in case your playful pup decides to pinch the stick from the cat.
However, the effects on cats and dogs might differ. While catnip sticks can give your cat an intense feeling of euphoria, your pup might experience drowsiness instead. It seems that catnip’s active ingredient does not trigger the happy receptors in the canine brain as it does with felines.
Benefits of using catnip
Catnip is available in many forms. Aside from catnip sticks, you can also purchase catnip in the form of dried leaves, powder, spray, or incorporated it into toys. Using these irresistible plant products can benefit Fluffy in the following ways:
1. Encourages playful behavior
Although indoor cats tend to have longer and more comfortable lives, they might not be as active as outdoor cats. Without proper diet and exercise, they can easily become obese and unhealthy.
One good trick to make your couch-potato cat move around more is to enlist the help of catnip. Collect your cat’s favorite toys and sprinkle catnip powder over them in front of her. When her behavior switches to playful mode, use interactive toys like feather wands or a laser pointer to lead her into a spirited play session.
2. Feline pain reliever
Catnip is believed to have natural pain relief qualities for both cats and humans – similar to aspirin and paracetamol. This means you can use catnips to combat your cat’s ouchies, be it a cramp, a toothache, or a headache.
To reap the effects, the catnip must be steeped in boiling water, just as you would make a regular herbal tea. The plant’s extract is infused in the water and can be drunk later on.
Let the infusion cool down before feeding it to your cat. Since it smells like catnip, your furry friend will happily take a few sips. Cats are notoriously bad drinkers, though, so she probably will not finish the entire bowl. To encourage her to drink more, you can use chicken broth instead of plain water to make the drink more appetizing.
3. Training aid
Most cats have a mind of their own, and no matter how much we love them, there will be times when their behavior becomes too much to handle. This is especially true of cats that are either bored or struggling with anxiety. There may come a time when you see your expensive carpet scratched or clawed, and unfortunately yelling at your cat will not make her any less likely to repeat her behavior in the future.
One of the most effective ways to avoid these situations is redirecting your kitty’s natural feline behavior. Adding catnip into your training routine can help keep your cat away from your carpets and furniture. If she has been ignoring the expensive scratching post you bought her, simply sprinkle some catnip powder onto the surface and she is unlikely to be able to resist that smell. The catnip’s powerful aroma will attract her like a magnet and keep her coming back for more. Problem solved!
4. Maintain dental hygiene
Catnip sticks are not only rewarding treats; they are also excellent plaque removers for your cat’s teeth. While she enjoys chewing the sticks, the bark acts like natural dental floss to keep her gums and teeth healthy. Catnip sticks are also good for preventing oral diseases such as gingivitis and halitosis, keeping her breath smelling good!
Catnip vs. silvervine – what is the difference?
If your cat goes crazy for catnip, she will definitely react the same or even more intensely to silvervine. Generally sold under the name of Matatabi sticks, silvervine is even more potent than catnip and 100% natural and safe.
Silvervine grows in the mountainous areas of Japan and China and, while catnip has only one active ingredient, silvervine has two: actinidine and dihydroactinidiolide. With two potent ingredients, it is no surprise that silvervine affects 80% of cats while catnip may only stimulate around 60% of the cat population.
Wrapping it up
Catnip sticks are generally natural and safe for feline consumption, even if given in excess amounts. However, be warned that over-consumption can cause stomach upsets, so it is best to give her just one stick at a time. Not only are catnip sticks really enjoyable for your furry friend; but they are also a great way to curb destructive behavior such as chewing or scratching your carpets and furniture. Furthermore, they are a great dental aid. So go ahead and let your cat enjoy her catnip stick without worrying!
Image: istockphoto.com / Kseniia Soloveva