A pinch or two of dried catnip as a treat is suitable for most cats, or you can give your cat a toy saturated with catnip scent. The chemical in plants of the nepeta family that affects cats is nepetalactone. Veterinarian Ramona Turner of the Fresno City Cat Hospital explains that this volatile oil stimulates areas of cats' brains involved in their sexual responses. Kittens don't usually react to catnip until they're about 6 months old, and 20 to 30 percent of cats show no response. You can use catnip to have some fun with your cat, to encourage her to play and to train her.
Giving a Catnip Treat
A light sprinkling of dried catnip provides an occasional treat for your cat. Crush a large pinch of the herb between your fingers, and sprinkle it on your cat's bed, her favorite toy or the floor. Playtime may consist of rolling around, meowing, running around the room, becoming sleepy or rubbing against the herb; it may last 5 to 15 minutes. Dried catnip flower buds contain the most nepetalactone. Catnip isn't addictive and is harmless to cats, but it's best to limit its use to once or twice a week so your cat doesn't become immune to its smell, according to certified cat behaviorist consultant Pam Johnson-Bennett, star of "Psycho Kitty."
Encouraging Your Cat to Play
Catnip toys encourage a cat to exercise through play, which is especially important for older, sedentary and overweight cats. Exposure to light and air breaks down the active ingredient in catnip. Some toys contain small amounts of the herb or pieces of the stalk, which aren't rich in nepetalactone. To make sure your cat experiences good quality catnip, store toys in a sealed container filled with dried catnip, or use toys with pouches for inserting the herb. You also can spray toys with catnip liquid, or fill a sock with dried catnip and tie a knot in it.
Training With Catnip
Catnip is a useful tool for training your cat to scratch in the right places and behave well. Cats must scratch to keep their claws healthy and sharp, but they often choose the wrong things to scratch at home. Try rubbing or spraying your cat's scratching post with catnip to encourage her to use it. And if you have to confine a cat to a room for a short time because you're having a party or for another reason, sprinkle catnip on the floor to distract and calm her. Catnip also can be used when introducing a new cat to your current pet. Sprinkle catnip to ease the tension, but take care: Some male cats become aggressive as a response to catnip, according to cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett.
To avoid the risk of exposing your cat to harmful chemicals, buy catnip from a reputable supplier. Plants that provide catnip grow wild throughout the Midwest and eastern parts of the country as well as Washington state. Be sure to check whether the catnip plants contain pesticides or other toxic chemicals. Certified organic products use catnip grown without the use of pesticides. Alternatively, grow catmint in your garden, which is rich source of catnip. A word of caution as catmint is invasive, and may attract neighborhood cats from miles around.