Catnip is a plant that contains the ingredient nepetalactone, which produces feelings of ecstasy and happiness in cats, sometimes causing leaping, purring, rolling, kicking, and various other antics. Cats only have to smell catnip (and don’t have to eat it) to feel its effects. While 70-90% of cats show some response to catnip (by smelling or ingesting it), it does not affect all cats. A cat’s reaction to catnip is probably determined by genetics, and a kitten younger than 3 months will usually not react to it at all.
Catnip is neither good nor bad. It is a naturally-grown herb that makes some cats act “crazy,” while others are not at all affected by it. It if does affect your cat, he will probably act very playful for about 10-30 minutes. We still don’t understand exactly how catnip works—or why cats in particular are attracted to it—but the substance in the plant that attracts cats has been isolated. This substance is not addictive or harmful—and might even be beneficial—although experts agree it’s best not to give it to your cat more than a few times a week.
Most often, catnip is used just for fun. You can give it directly to your cat to smell, or buy toys with a catnip scent or catnip inside (such as a catnip ball). You can also use catnip to play hide-and-seek games with your cat, which cats, as hunters by nature, really enjoy. Just hide some catnip on a windowsill or atop a cat tree for him to find. If your cat enjoys catnip, it can also be used for training. For example, if your cat exhibits good behavior by scratching his cat tree instead of your couch, reward him with a sprig of catnip. In some cases, catnip-sensitive cats that fight have gotten along better after the application of catnip to one or both cats. Some experts also think that certain properties of catnip might help ease cats in pain.
You can find catnip in most pet stores in various forms. Sometimes it is fresh, sometimes dried, and sometimes comes inside toys or treats (both fresh and dried catnip have been proven to work—you might want to try both with your cat to see which he likes better). You should store catnip in a sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer.
Catnip is not harmful to dogs. Dogs are not attracted to it in the way cats are, but it poses no danger to them.