Crazy for Catnip
by Melissa Breau
November 1, 2011
Often considered a fun treat for cat and owner alike, catnip can also be used to promote activity and as a tool for training cats.



Obesity is a major problem for cats; even a few extra pounds can make a big difference on their tiny frames. But unlike with dogs, which are usually happy to join their owners for a run or can be coaxed into a game of fetch, attempts to get a cat to exercise are often futile. A wand toy may lure a kitten into a game of pounce, but an older or obese cat is more likely to ignore the toy entirely. Often, it takes a little something extra—like a sprinkle of catnip—to convince them to join in the festivities.

Most cat owners occasionally enjoy watching their feline friends play with catnip toys or roll around in loose catnip—and getting a larger cat to play isn’t the only way catnip can be beneficial. Because cats are attracted to its scent, using catnip to mark cat toys, new cat scratchers or cat beds can help teach the cat to use them.

Many cat product manufacturers have even begun to include catnip with their products. Several brands of cat scratchers come with a small packet of catnip that can be sprinkled over the toy to convince cats to check them out. Toy companies are also jumping on the bandwagon; toys are often scented with catnip or include a place where cat owners can put catnip into the toy, making playtime even more fun.

Pioneer Pet is one toy company who adds catnip to its toys. It recently introduced a new product called Nip Nibblers, which offers the benefit of an enclosed catnip toy and, through small holes in the container holding the catnip, lets out small amounts of the herb.

“It is great because the cat gets the fun of loose catnip but the owner doesn’t get the mess,” says Jon Supanich, the company’s sales manager.


A VARIETY OF OPTIONS
Part of the mint family, catnip is an all-natural herb that comes in a variety of formats, including loose in a finely ground format, in pellets, as a catnip essential oil spray, loose leaves and flowers, and loose catnip buds. Catnip can also be grown at home; easy-to-grow cat gardens are becoming more popular, and there are several suppliers today that offer them. 

Retailers should carry a mix of these items, says Aimee Ross, owner of From The Field. “Some people may find that kitty safe fine grind is what their cats like, or some find the stronger smell of leaf and flower work; others like the no mess option of catnip oil spray or solid pellets.”

She adds that in addition to regular catnip, people have begun using honeysuckle and valerian root. “Valerian root and honeysuckle both have a chemical very similar to nepetalactone, the active chemical in catnip,” she says. The company offers a mixture of valerian and catnip leaves and flowers called Herbal Blend MX. “The reactions to both herbs are similar to the reactions of catnip and fun to watch. Valerian and honeysuckle can also be used for those cats that do not always respond to plain leaf and flower catnip.”

The wide array of products available ensures that there is something for almost every cat; however catnip is one product category that cat owners are often undereducated about, making it essential for retailers to supply good information to their customers.

For example, when pet owners first bring home a new kitten, they often introduce catnip too early. They want to enjoy the antics that result from giving their new pet the herb. “Cat owners should know that a cat will not typically respond to catnip until after six months of age,” says Ross. A cat owner who introduces catnip products too early may be led to believe that their cat doesn’t like catnip—when in reality, they should just try again when their cat is a little older.

Staff members who understand the various ways catnip can be used and who know a few basics about how catnip works and how it can affect cats can help educate cat owners. Retailers should be sure to review these things with each employee they hire; even just knowing the basics can go a long way when it comes to selling catnip.


CATNIP AS AN ADD-ON
Catnip can be cross-sold with many of the other items in the cat aisle. Retailers can place a catnip spray near items cats will need to be taught to use, such as scratchers or beds, or they can set up catnip oil near cat toys and create a special spot for catnip near the register, where it makes a good impulse purchase. Green, leafy catnip gardens, in particular, tend to catch customers’ attention and work well as conversation starters. Retailers who are particularly interested in promoting catnip products can even keep a can of catnip essential oil spray near the register to spritz any cat toys they sell, which will allow cat owners to see first hand how much fun catnip can be for their cat.

Since catnip is an herb, it can become ineffective over time, so retailers should be sure to research the shelf life of any catnip products they stock. Understanding how long the products are good for and asking suppliers about how they pack and store the products before they arrive in the store will prevent retailers from unknowingly providing bad product to their customers. Shelf life for most catnip products can be up to a year, if the product is stored out of direct light and sealed tightly after each time it is opened, says Ross.

“Retailers fair well when they understand what catnip is, how fresh it is and how old a cat should be before catnip is introduced,” says Ross. “Even if the store is mostly for dogs with a small cat section, just having the clerk understand these things will help the buyer in choosing the best product containing catnip for their cat.”