Closeup of calico cat lying in bed of catnip greens plant in outdoor home garden by fence

Just like humans, cats wish they could get out more—though these pets are contending with more than just a pandemic. As primarily indoor creatures, cats have their own version of cabin fever and can go just as stir-crazy as the rest of us. Luckily, pet parents are finding solutions in two forms: catnip and cat grass.

Catnip acts as a stimulant and encourages cats to exercise. Known as nepeta cataria (a perennial, herbaceous plant from the mint family), catwort or catmint, catnip’s active ingredient is terpenoid nepetalactone, an oil that chemically binds to the receptors in a cat’s nose and stimulates the neurons in the cat’s brain. However, not all cats have an intense attraction to catnip, so some respond with characteristic aloofness. 

For its part, cat grass is an indoor plant that mimics the outdoors and is grown specifically for cats to chew in lieu of houseplants or chemically-treated grass from a lawn. Among the most common cat grass species are wheatgrass and oat grass, which are sold as a grow-your-own kit with seeds or a live plant that lasts a couple weeks. 

“Two out of three cats today live exclusively indoors, and most of these cats still crave a natural environment,” said Mark Teixeira, president of Bell Rock Growers, which makes Pet Greens products. “While cat parents know the benefits of indoor life for their pets in terms of safety and longevity, they then have to deal with a lack of enrichment which can lead to obesity, boredom, inactivity, behavior problems and chronic health problems.” 


Bringing the Outdoors In

Although they are keeping their beloved felines out of outdoor harm, Teixeira says cat parents suffer from “indoor cat guilt,” and feel like they are denying their cats a connection to nature. To enhance their cats’ lives, these owners turn to toys, furniture, treats and training to provide some form of enrichment. While these products are important, cat grass and catnip can provide additional, natural solutions because they give cats a connection to nature.

For example, he says, Pet Greens’ fresh organic Cat Grass provides gentle, natural fiber for healthy digestion and relief from hairballs, as well as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and protein. Pet Greens’ live catnip is non-toxic, non-addicting and stimulates play and exercise, provides mental enrichment and can help relieve anxiety and stress.

The challenge for retailers is that consumers are not aware of these items that can “bring the outdoors in,” so there is an educational component to marketing catnip and cat grass. In its research, Bell Rock Growers found that over half of indoor cat owners have never heard of live cat grass or live catnip, but once introduced to the products and made aware of the benefits, they are highly likely to purchase one or both for their pets. He added that 95 percent of live catnip and cat grass purchases are made in-store. 

“The main focus for retailers should be on letting consumers know that their indoor cats have special requirements in order to live a full, healthy and happy life indoors,” Teixeira says. “These products are considered trip-drivers as a result. These consumers are a key buying segment because of their high engagement with categories such as foods and treats.” 


Keeping it Fresh

When it comes to catnip, freshness is key, says Scott Ragan, managing partner and CEO of Meowijuana, a SmarterPaw Brand. 

“It is catnip’s essential oil nepetalactone that makes the magic happen, and it’s found mainly in the leaves and buds,” he continues. “When the oil dries out, no more magic—it’s just like the herbs in your kitchen cabinet. If your herbs or catnip don’t have aromas, throw them out. They’re duds.” 

Ragan explains that catnip stimulates the pleasure-seeking pheromones in a cat’s brain. That’s why cats roll, rub, purr and frolic for about 10 minutes, then nap or are sedentary and tranquil for a short time after that. Not all cats are interested in catnip, so retailers should also merchandise and discuss the benefits of blends with their customers.

Meowijuana offers blends of catnip and valerian root, and catnip and silvervine in bottles of the brand’s Purrple Passion and Kalico Kush. Ragan notes that both valerian root and silvervine have similar effects as catnip, and appeal to cats not normally intrigued by catnip. 

Another detail that retailers should consider is that as with all herbs, there are weak strains of catnip and strong ones. The right soil, sun and growing conditions can contribute to making what Ragan calls premium catnip versus inferior catnip. 

“We take great pride in our sourcing and growing of catnip in each of our toys and blends,” he says.  PB