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Published: Oct 18, 2012

If you're a new cat owner, chances are you've heard of catnip. This herb affects some cats in interesting and often fun ways, but if you've never purchased it yourself, you may have some questions about what it is and how it works. Here's some general information to help you decide if catnip is right for your feline companion.

What is catnip?
Catnip is an all natural herb similar to mint, according to PetSide.com. It's official, scientific name is Nepeta cataria, and it is not a drug. In the wild, the plant has bright blue flowers, though the form given to felines looks more like a dried herb, or else is infused into a toy of some sort. CatNipToys.com reports that Nepeta cataria grows in the dry, desert regions of North America.

What does catnip do?
According to VCA Animal Hospitals, catnip only affects about 50 percent of the feline population, so don't be surprised if your pet doesn't have a response to the herb. Those who are affected by the chemical compounds in the plant can display a wide variety of reactions. Some become more mellow and relaxed, while others might act excited, playful or vocal. Some may even drool or rub their face where the catnip has been sprinkled, but this is not an indication of a pet health problem. If you are interested to see how your cat responds, start out with a small amount in a safe space where your cat can play or relax as desired.

Is catnip safe?
VCA reports that catnip is not harmful in any way to felines, nor is the chemical within catnip addictive. "If your cat is a responder, giving access to catnip can add another dimension to his life," the website reports. If you are observing your cat while he is playing with catnip, and you are concerned that he is suffering a medical issue, you should take him to one of the near by vet clinics for a checkup. Chances are it's not the catnip, but something else that is causing a health problem.

What kind of cats can benefit from catnip?
In addition to adding a bit of spice to your feline's life, catnip can also help your feline overcome cat behavior problems such as aggression toward you or other felines, or a lack of excitement and playfulness. Cats who enjoy the effects of catnip will be more likely to relax, play and exercise, so consider using the herb to encourage healthy living for your feline.

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