Last updated May 4th, 2020
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:
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.
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!
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.
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
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…. or some sprinklings of catnip!
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.
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!
If you would like to grow your own, our handy step-by-step instructions will show you how to grow catnip from seed, even if you don’t have a green thumb.
Catnip pawty anyone?
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