Cats, famous for being the more aloof, less-needy creatures compared to their canine counterparts, are obsessed with catnip. Otherwise known as Nepeta Cataria, catnip is a plant that includes the stimulant nepetalactone, which is responsible for the crazed, high-energy response cats have after smelling it.
Despite the known "cat craze" that ensues when a cat inhales some catnip, it is not addictive and cats can adapt to it quickly.
"Ingestion is perfectly safe (it’s non-toxic and non-addicting) but different natural chemicals come into play through the digestive tract, creating a sedative effect rather than the stimulation caused when it enters through the olfactory system," says Catherine Hoffmann, co-founder of Bell Rock Growers, Inc.
It’s important to keep in mind that not every cat reacts to catnip the same way, says Allie Hackett, Cosmic Pet’s product development manager for cat products.
"...[most] catnip causes cats to react by rolling, drooling, acting playful or frisky and/or sleepy and content."
The effects of catnip are short-lived, only lasting about 5-15 minutes prior to wearing off. Despite this being the norm, Hackett highlights that every cat is different, and it’s impossible to predict exactly how a cat’s going to react.
Pascal Bedard, president of From the Field, calls the effects of catnip, a product known to both greatly excites cats and calm them down, an oxymoron.
"You must see a cat’s catnip reaction as a curve, going from sniffing curiously to super excited to super relaxed," says Bedard.
A cat’s reaction and subsequent relaxed state can be compared to that of a badminton tournament, explains Bedard. The rush of energy can be compared to what it’s like while in play during a game, and the feeling afterward is the result of exerting that energy.
While catnip is well-known to be safe and beneficial to cats, today’s cat owners may be curious as to what goes into catnip products. The millennial customer has proven to be interested in the extra details about how products are manufactured, what goes into the product—and catnip is no different.
Many catnip formulas only use the plant itself in its products.
"Our live catnip, being all-natural and fresh, really has no processes or ingredients, although we do test the seed for its germination rate," says Hoffmann. "Rich soil, water and sunlight are the only other ingredients!"
"Most of our catnip is grown on farms in Canada and the U.S., it is 100 percent natural catnip with no additives," says Hackett.
The company’s Mad Cat toys, however, combine natural North American grown catnip (100 percent catnip) with Silvervine, a natural vining plant that induces a similar reaction to catnip, "but affects a larger percentage of cats than catnip does," according to Hackett.
From the Field, like Cosmic Pet, offers catnip formats with no additives included, but From the Field’s Herbal Blend and Unique Blend come mixed with added valerian root or silver vine.
"The reason we mix our catnip with silver vine or valerian root is that not all cats will react to catnip, but some of those cats will react to valerian root and/or silver vine," says Bedard. He explains that silver vine and valerian root also offer their own cat attractants.
The (Cat) Grass is Always Greener
Catnip isn’t the only plant that’s out there to keep cats entertained. Cat grass is another option for cat parents looking to benefit their pet’s mental and physical wellness. Even though cats are considered obligate carnivores, felines need more than just meat in their diets.
"Their wild ancestors, as well as domestic cats living in the wild today, obtain certain vital elements from greens that they ingest second-hand, so to speak, from their prey, and it’s also not uncommon to see felines of all sizes munching on whatever grass they can find in their territory," explains Hoffmann.
Bell Rock Growers’ Pet Greens brand offers live, pre-grown Cat Grass in Original Wheatgrass and a Variety Blend of oat, rye and barley grasses. Both flavors are offered in self-grow kits, too. The company recently added Meadow, its 100 percent wheatgrass self-grow tub, suitable for multi-cat homes or "for cats that like to get into the Cat Grass experience in a big way," according to Hoffmann.
Cat grass, along with live catnip, offers a variety of nutrients for cats and significantly enhance the lives of indoor cats. According to Hoffmann, the nutrients that go into cat grass that, "most people are familiar with," include vitamins A, E and C, minerals, like calcium, iron, phosphorus and magnesium, and protein.
"These things support the eyes, skin, coat and immune system, and the benefits to the digestive system," continues Hoffman.
In addition to providing nutrients, cat grass also helps with a cat’s dental health, especially bad breath.
One important thing to keep in-mind about plants cats are fascinated by is that cat grass and catnip are two completely different plants.
"Cat grass should not be confused with catnip; it does not contain the feline attractant nepetalactone, but many cats are drawn to cat grass," said Hackett. "There are some theories that it helps them pass hairballs, acting as a natural fiber source. Some also believe cats get some trace minerals and vitamins from eating grass."
Cat grass also connects felines to nature, especially indoor cats without access to regular grass. Hoffman says that as a result of more cats staying indoors full-time, cats are more likely to go after houseplants, which can be prevented with some cat grass.
Understanding how to take care of cat grass is key to getting its full benefits, and those who may not be as confident in their green thumb don’t need to worry—cat grass is simple to take care of. Like a typical houseplant, keeping a plant in sunlight and watering it will help it grow for a cat’s entertainment. In addition to being a point of fascination for a cat, cat grass can also be a nice addition to any home.
"Most cat grass seeds if kept in a nice sunny window and watered daily will sprout and be ready to eat within seven to 14 days," says Hackett.
For an additional perspective, Hoffmann says cat grass should be watered about twice a week (from the bottom, by setting it in a shallow bowl of water or so for an hour and then draining) and in indirect sunlight. The cat grass’ "delicate, tender blades can burn," and if a plant is placed near the window, it’s important for it to be a north-facing one, she explains.
Cat owners may not realize all the benefits of catnip or cat grass for their pets, but retailers can easily enlighten them.
"Catnip has been recommended by veterinarians for a long time as a mood enhancer (for cats AND for cats’ parents, it is always quite a show!), especially for indoor cats," says Bedard. "...Catnip can be calming for hyper cats and have benefits to fight cat’s obesity in less active cats."
Customers should look for "natural, organic and safe products that are grown or produced in North America," says Hackett, recommending that providing any information about where the product is sourced is helpful.
Bedard suggests retailers prepare pet owners to expect a reaction from their cats, and to inform them that young kittens, less than six months old, will not react to catnip. Catnip triggers a somewhat sexual reaction in cats, "as the catnip essential oils have a smell that is similar to a cat’s pheromone."
Hoffmann also recommends telling the customer what to expect, but in terms of how each plant should be treated differently. Even though they have a similar in-home care routine, there are some key differences.
"Cat Grass typically remains viable for about two to three weeks, although its life can be extended by refrigerating overnight or whenever it’s not in use," explains Hoffmann. "Catnip, on the other hand, will not do well when refrigerated, but it can live for quite a long time if transplanted into a larger pot so it doesn’t become root-bound."
Providing retailers with information about the benefits of catnip and cat grass is important, but it’s also nice to highlight how these plants can offer a piece of the outdoors for cats—especially for indoor cats.
According to Hoffmann, "Aside from the nutrients, we believe in providing cats with a personal sanctuary within the home, and a kitty garden containing live cat grasses and catnip is a unique and expansive way of enriching their precious lives." PB