Catnip or Cat-Not? The Great Debate
We’ve all seen cats rolling around fervently on the carpet, passionately attacking a new toy, entranced by the lure of catnip. And while most cat owners agree that a little catnip is fine in moderation for their pets, debates still linger as to whether the product has any hidden dangers for our feline friends.
The science behind the substance is more straightforward. Catnip is a member of a group of plants termed the "nepeta" genus. When bruised, the oils contained in the stem and leaves of the plant are released. These oils cause felines to experience a temporary euphoria akin to the human experience of drug or alcohol-induced intoxication.
The observed effects of catnip vary from animal to animal. Some cats become absorbed in lights and shadows, some chase imaginary movement, and some just loll around on the floor. Others become obsessed with whatever new toy the ‘nip is in, failing to lose interest in that toy over long periods of time.
While focusing your cat's attention can be helpful in getting your cat to bond with a new toy or a new spot—or, alternatively, calming him down—some owners still have questions about whether altering the mental state of their cats is always the best course of action.
When sniffed, catnip acts as a stimulant for a cat's brain, but when ingested, the substance functions as a sedative. Too much catnip can overstimulate felines, leading to potentially wild behavior. And as an interesting side benefit, the plant is also a known insect and mosquito repellent, but these alternate uses do not have any effects or pose threats to cats themselves.
In humans, catnip reportedly has a sedative effect. In fact, some alternative healers claim that the flowers can be boiled in tea to help settle an upset stomach, and that the oils in its stem can be applied to cuts in order to aid healing.
While much evidence suggests that catnip has only positive or neutral effects on people and animals, some pet owners choose to maintain a non-catnip stance. But most professionals agree that a little good fun here and there—in moderation, of course—is a safe road to take.
Plus, cats love it. And how can we argue with that?
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