Got catnip? Yes, three bags full!

Catnip (Nepeta Cataria) is a hardy perennial herb of the mint
family and has become synonymous with images of cats in a
state of euphoria. Enhance your cat's world and bring him to
the next level of being a cat with these catnip enrichment tips.

9 Ways catnip can enrich your cat’s life

9 ways catnip can enrich your cat's life

Your cat climbs up to the top shelf with stealthy paws. Reaching out, he grabs the bag of green goodness and tosses it onto the floor for his feline friends. The catnip is out of the bag and the catnip party begins. If you’re a multi-cat household you’ve possibly walked in on a few wild catnip parties on your kitchen floor and then learned to store the catnip stash where feline grabby paws can’t reach!

When we think of cat environment enrichment, we think of engaging your cat in interactive playtime, food puzzles and offering an interesting changing environment for your cats. But we underestimate the power of scent. Just a little whiff of catnip can send a cat into a 15-minute euphoric frenzy. Just like treats can be used to train a cat, so too can catnip be used in positive reinforcement and behavior modification training. Some cats are treat motivated, but many others will give up their seat in a sun puddle for a bag of ‘nip any day! In fact, a whopping 70% of cats are susceptible to the catnip effect and cats inherit this trait from one of their parents.

Here is a Chirpy Cat statistic for you:

Percentage of Chirpies reactive to catnip90%

George is the only cat who does not care for catnip. Sorry George!

You can take advantage of your cats’ love of their recreational herb of choice, Nepeta Cataria and use it in your cat environment enrichment game plan. Winter time in our climate means the cats spend more time indoors while their catio is blanketed under mounds of snow. More time spent indoors also means increased opportunities to trip their humans, drink from our water glasses and generally seek out creative ways to cause mischief.

But what the cats don’t know is that throughout late Summer and Autumn, their recreational herb of choice had been hanging out in the shed, literally, stewing in its magical oils for months! The Chirpies are going to thank me for all that nepetalactone goodness in every sprinkle of green confetti catnip! If your cat falls in the 70% of cats that react to catnip, you most certainly have more than just a few catnip enrichment tricks up your sleeves! Catnip is a great choice for use in a variety of different ways to enhance and enrich your cat’s world.

Drying catnip in the shed for a period of four months

Catnip hanging out in the shed, drying for a period of 4 months.

Why catnip for environment enrichment

Catnip (Nepeta Cataria) is a hardy perennial herb of the mint family and has become synonymous with images of cats in a state of euphoria. Nepetalactone, the organic compound found in catnip, is the key ingredient responsible for that familiar kitty high: writhing, wriggling, rolling, licking, head shaking and salivating. Unlike other bad habits that could only bring harm such as overeating, it’s good to know that you can freely enable your cat’s catnip habit. Catnip has similar effects to a hallucinogenic drug but is completely harmless and non-addictive to our cat companions.

“Got catnip?!” Yes Mr. Jack, three bagsful!

catnip dance

Sly Pie’s catnip floor dance

 

I was excited to bring my catnip harvest inside and finish the drying process, much to the curious delight of a keen feline audience whose only interest was to sabotage my task before it began. Nonetheless, the Chirpies now have catnip to last them all winter.

Dried catnip being attacked by an enthusiastic catnip user, Mr. Jack. He couldn't wait to get into the catnip.

How do you keep dried catnip away from a cat? You can’t.

Catnip tips and how to offer it to your cat
  • Dried catnip consists of the leaves and blossoms and to a lesser degree, some stems, all of which contain the volatile compound, nepetalactone.
    To release the oil rub the leaves between your fingers and sprinkle it on a toy, on the floor or scratching post.
  • When buying catnip look for organic catnip with more leaves and blossoms as these are more potent than a lower grade catnip containing more stems. You may have noticed many store-bought brands have more pieces of stems.
  • Store catnip in an airtight container to keep moisture out. You may also store the bag or container of catnip in the fridge or freezer to prolong the shelf life. Over time catnip and its volatile oil lose its potency.
  • Inhaled catnip brings on the expected euphoric and stimulating effect whereas nibbling on catnip has a calming and sedative effect. Much like what it does for you when drinking in your favorite nighttime tea blend.
  • Some cats get overly stimulated by catnip and may get aggressive. Our Mr. Jack gets a little too pumped up and will want to pick a fight with the other cats, much like the guy at the bar who’s had a bit too much. Watch your cats for their different reactions and if one gets a little too rough, rather indulge them with their favorite herb in a separate area away from your other cats.
  • Don’t give catnip every day but space out these catnip sessions to about three times per week. Constant exposure to catnip over short periods of time may make your cat immune to its effects.
  • The science on the reaction to catnip is clear, but we can never know exactly what it feels like for Mr. Tiggs to be high. But judging from all that rolling, licking and head shaking we know the euphoric effects are pleasurable. Experts believe the nepetalactone in catnip mimics feel-good cat pheromones.
9 Fun ways to awaken your cat’s senses

catnip enrichment tips to enhance your cat's world

1. Training your cat to love his scratching post.

If your cat prefers the arm of the couch for his scent marking rituals, redirect this behavior to his scratching post instead. Liberally rub dried catnip on the scratching post to encourage play and scratching. The scratching post is one of the essential must-haves for a cat and is your cat’s platform of communication so it’s vital that your cat develops a strong affinity to his scratching post. Remember, be mindful and observant regarding your cat’s scratch preferences and experiment with different sizes and types of scratches. When your cat scratches at the desired spot, reward with treats.

2. Relieve boredom

“Can I flick your pen off the table and watch it go flying?”

No, your cat is not a jerk, he’s just bored and he’s tapping into this natural prey-drive instinct. In conjunction with interactive play sessions, catnip can be given to cats to relieve boredom and as an enriching and rewarding experience. Cats love routine but in an unchanging environment, boredom can lead to behavioral problems. The high energy or bully cat thrives on interactive play and when these activities are limited he’s more likely to lash out with bully tactics. In addition to interactive play activities, offer some catnip as a diversion tool and let him act out his energy wriggling on the kitchen floor instead of testing the laws of inertia on your pen.

3. Encourage playful activity in sedentary cats

If your cat prefers his couch too much, catnip can offer a little burst of energy. Get the catnip out and when the effects take hold, engage his hunting instincts through play. Da bird is one of our favorites to get our cats moving. Our Charlie needs a little encouragement in the exercise department and there’s nothing that gets him off the couch faster than a little bribe of catnip and toys.

4. Perk up those tired raggedy forgotten toys

To create renewed interest in old toys, ‘marinade’ your cat’s toys in an airtight container filled with catnip. In fact, I suggest storing your cats’ toys this way instead of leaving them out where cats lose interest in them.

5. Use catnip as a mood booster

Cats are sensitive creatures and any change in their environments such as the death of a feline or human friend, a new adoption or a move, can make your cat depressed and listless. Give your cat a sprinkling of catnip and lots of cuddles to enhance his mood.

6. What about grieving, depressed or lethargic cats?

Provide your cat with a burst of energy and a happy moment to encourage a bit of interaction and socialization. It’s also a great mood enhancer for shy or fearful cats in a new environment. A mini catnip session can help bring Timid Teddy out of his shell. Conversely, chewing or eating catnip has a calming and sedative effect and this may ease feline anxiety.

7. Keep a fresh catnip gift basket

While catnip can grows indoors, it grows best outdoors in full sun. If your cat has access to an enclosed garden or catio a great way to allow your cat the uplifting and euphoric benefits is to grow catnip hanging baskets at the highest levels. We place our hanging catnip baskets on the highway ramps of the catio for easy snacking access for the tree-dwelling cats. Hanging catnip in baskets prevents the plant from being annihilated by over-zealous catnip trips but still allows them to snack whenever they can reach it. Catnip buffet anyone? Believe it or not, I keep a basket or two of catnip out in the catio during winter and the freeze-dried stems or “catnipsicles” as we call them, prove quite popular with our resident catnip thief, Mr. Jimmy Fancy Feet.

winter catnip hanging basket

Summer catnip hanging basket

Summertime catnip gift basket for tree-dwelling kitties

cats getting excite over fresh catnip

Offer some fresh catnip leaves as a treat.

8. Catnip can be used to ease cat introductions

When it’s finally time for your new cat to emerge from his ‘safe room’ and meet the resident cat or cats, there are plenty of stress-busting ways to ease tensions. Scent soaking toys, as well as toys marinated in catnip, provide the perfect tools for starting the cat friendships on the right paw! Tip: Before offering catnip, it’s a good idea to have had each cat go through the ‘catnip test’ to eliminate possible aggression. The last thing you want during the first face to face meeting between cats is a cat high on catnip with an overstimulated aggressive streak.

9. Catnip can be used to stimulate appetite

If your cat has lost his appetite due to a chronic illness such as CKD, a little catnip can actually boost interest in food. When my senior cat was first diagnosed with CKD (chronic kidney disease) he lost interest in food very quickly. Appetite stimulants made him restless, agitated and vocal. Although catnip is not meant to be an appetite stimulant, it worked to at least make Earl Grey take his first few bites of his food. Tip: Always seek advice from your vet when your cat stops eating as anorexia in cats is a serious condition and can lead to hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease.

Do you use catnip to enhance and encourage positive behaviors? Do your cats go bananas over catnip? Isn’t it just wonderful that something so naughty doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure? In the Chirpy house, catnip is King!

Now, where is that bag of catnip I had packaged ready to give to a friend? Oh yes, I forgot, there’s a catnip pawty on the kitchen floor and I wasn’t invited. No worries Jimmy Fancy Feet, there’s plenty more where that came from, and it’s being stored out of reach of polydactyl paws!

Stolen stash of catnip on the kitchen floor

Catnip pawty anyone?


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Great for environment enrichment, catnip can be safely given to your cat anytime to enhance his world, awaken his senses and relieve boredom.

About the author

The Lady Cat
The Lady Cat

Whiskers make me smile.
Coffee is good for you.
And cats are for life.
Helping cats live enriched lives with their people.
(Yasaar Nakchbendi)

33 Comments

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    • It has helped Earl Grey when I really needed him to eat and I didn’t want to give the appetite stimulant. I’ll never give that to him again! I don’t know if it works with every cat but it’s worth a try!

  • I think most of the catnip I’ve given my cat was inferior. Sometimes my cat seems to enjoy catnip, but most of the time he doesn’t.

    I didn’t realize it could help stimulate a cat’s appetite. I’ve always thought about growing my own; maybe I’ll try it this summer.
    Beth recently posted…Happy Tails: Kahlua the Shepherd/Chow MixMy Profile

    • You have to try growing it, and perhaps try giving more. It’s not harmful so you can give the equivalent of a full teaspoon and heap it on the floor. The blossoms are also potent!

  • We have 2 cats and one of them goes crazy over catnip! So much so that you don’t dare go near him as he is playing with a catnip filled toy because you may not come out with all fingers 😉 And then there’s the other cat, who could care less and turns up her nose at catnip – as if to say “what do you want me to do with that?”

    • For cats who don’t react to catnip, there are alternatives such as silver vine. It’s available as a powder from pet stores. Cats are such goofy monkeys, aren’t they!! MOL

  • Oh my mouses! As you might have guessed, this post is RIGHT UP MY ALLEY, for sure. I mean… IT’S ABOUT THE NIP! MOUSES! Of course, I did get a little jealous. Peep #1 has never mastered the art of growin’ the nip as you obviously have. sighs One day though… One day, I’m gonna order her a book on Growin’ Nip for Dummies, and THEN I’ll get her to grow me some nip, for sure. PURRS.

    ps. Yes. Nip does give us cats the munchies so I can verify that it stimulates the appetite. purrs

    • Yes indeed, this is totally your thing, CATNIP! You’ve got to twist her arm to try and grow it for you, it’s so much more potent and the longer it hangs out to dry the more potent it will be!

  • Wow, I wanna come to that pawty! Say Miss Yas, do any of the Chirpies get sleepy when on the nip like me? Mom had a kitty before me that was catnip obsessed to the point where he would sit and caterwaul by the pantry door where it was kept! After seeing your post, now Mom wants to try hanging nip up to dry. She potted a nip plant that she transplanted from the ground and it did well inside until she left on vacation and it went thirsty. Oops! Hugs!

    • Scout gets sleepy afterward but I think it’s because she eats it too, that’s because when eaten it has a calming sedative effect. I find that when the plant gets too dry they do recover quickly. I will be posting again on how to grow catnip!

  • Ah yes. The beloved catnip! I remember using catnip to help get my diva cat Precious up and moving. And Dusty always loved it at playtime or as a mood booster. I had no idea it was also an appetite stimulant.

  • Rosie is one of the rare cats who isn’t so interested in catnip. I wish she was! I keep trying in hopes she will change her mind. I’ve never tried growing it myself – but maybe I should!

    • Perhaps if you grow it yourself it will be more potent. By the way, I make little parcels for my colleagues and their cats and they all reported how crazy their cats went over the stuff. Some even stealing it from their purses. I also find that some cats need more than a pinch to get the effect. You should totally grow some!

  • My cats have always enjoyed catnip, but to varying degrees. Just a few leaves would send my older cat into euphoria, while it would take a basket full of the stuff to stimulate my younger cat. How much catnip is considered the “right amount,’ or does it just depend on the individual animal?

    • It does depend on the individual cat. Some of my cats only need a little whiff and they go bonkers while others need more time to lick, paw, sniff and rub themselves on the stuff to each their high!

  • We have catnip plants in the garden! They have to be protected until they are strong enough to survive being pummelled, squashed and laid on by whoever is next in line at the catnip plot!

    Ours all love catnip and especially when it is stuffed in toys. There it lasts longer 😉 If a toy isn’t rubbed or coated in catnip it getsignored!
    The Dash Kitten Crew recently posted…Still Life of Harvey with Sweet PeasMy Profile

  • Truffle is one of those kitties who can be a “mean drunk” when on catnip. I have to watch her and need to take it away after a few minutes because she’ll attack Brulee. Brulee loves to lick the catnip. I’ve never given them fresh catnip.

    • ha ha sounds like Mr. Jack, he gets mean with Scout. They’re the complete opposite, she’s the equivalent to the stoner with a case of the giggles and he’s the mean drunk MOL

  • Bookmarked and Pinned! This is pawsome! I usually buy catnip but I think I am going to grow some this year in my garden! Thank you for the inspiration to do so! Oh and love all the great tips – which is why I bookmarked for when my harvest is ready!
    Joely Smith recently posted…Year Of The Dog 2018My Profile

  • During my 18 years of owning a pet sitting service, I loved it when pet parents would leave quality catnip for their cats rather than just the stems in the mice that offered so little stimulation for the kitties. The catnip left them in a good mood while the family was away.

    • There’s always one isn’t there! George is a little strange but we love him anyway 🙂 He is, however, a little more responsive to silver vine. So perhaps that could be the case with Daisy Mae too.

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