If you have a feline friend, odds are you've discovered her interest in catnip. This mysterious kitty kryptonite can be found in everything from cat treats to interactive cat toys. Despite its popularity with cats worldwide, many pet parents know little about catnip, where it comes from and it is associated benefits.

Nepeta Cataria: Code Name Catnip

Catnip is derived from a plant called nepeta cataria. As a member of the mint family, nepeta cataria has a pleasant smell that cats are naturally attracted to. This herb-like plant is native to southern and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and areas of China. Also referred to as catmint, the catnip plant contains a chemical compound called nepetalactone in its leaves and stems. It's this compound that attracts cats and affects their cat behavior.

While many cats have physical reactions to catnip, not every cats are susceptible to its alluring properties. Sensitivity to catnip is definitely an inherited trait. As few as one in two or one in three cats has the inherited trait, and people who don't carry it appear to be immune to catnip's benefits.

Effects, Benefits and Warnings

When sniffed, nepetalactone is really a stimulant that creates a “high” that lasts about Ten minutes before wearing off. Stimulation can lead to increased exercise and play, which keeps your cat fit, mentally and physically. When eaten moderately, catnip works as a sedative, calming your cat and reducing stress. Catnip's calming properties are specifically beneficial introducing your cat to situations where she may suffer from increased anxiety. Natural dried catnip has high concentrations of catnip oil, so feeding your feline a bit of catnip before traveling can reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

According to Dr. Gayle Sternefeld, veterinarian in the Cat Hospital at Townson in Baltimore, unlike some drugs, there seem to be no addictive qualities to catnip. However, cats that are subjected to catnip daily may lose their sensitivity to it and become less drawn to it. When it comes to dosage, Dr. Sternefeld advises, “A tiny bit, just a little at a time, just like a unique treat, has become the best place to go with it.”

Cats might have different reactions to catnip, if any at all. While veterinarian Stephanie Liff doesn't use catnip at her Pure Paws Veterinary Clinic, she's clients who do and see variable effects. Catnip is non-toxic, however it has been known to cause stomach upset in cats. You need to refrain from giving your feline catnip if it results in diarrhea or nausea.

Types of Catnip

Catnip is used in a variety of pet products because of its ability to both excite and relax cats. You can sprinkle all-natural dried catnip to your cat's food for a calming effect that lasts between 5-15 minutes. For additional essential catnip oil, look for natural catnip made from premium leaf and flower cuts. Catnip oil can also be bottled and packaged in a convenient spray which you can use in your cat's toys to excite and motivate play. You may also use catnip oil when training cats to scratch on places apart from your rug or sheets. You can even find compressed catnip toys and catnip bubbles for your kitty's amusement.

Catnip is a non-toxic, natural way to motivate your cat to play and obtain the exercise she must conserve a healthy weight. When digested, natural properties from the catnip plant can help calm and lower anxiety inside your stressed kitty. With its benefits, it's no wonder why cats add too much for catnip.