Herb of the Month

Monthly focus on catnip 'Nepeta Cataria' (aka catnip, catswort or catmint)

Cat nip is a plant native to many parts of the world including southern Europe, and is a member of the peppermint family. The main active ingredient found in cat nip is an essential oil called nepetalactone. This plant is cultivated as an ornamental plant, is good for butterflies and also has some interesting medicinal uses. The oil is a very effective and completely natural insect repellent. It can be used to prevent insect bites.

The catnip 'trip'

The smell of certain plants can arouse intense interest in cats. Cat nip is undoubtedly the king in this regard, although other plants such as valerian also have a similar effect. The catnip response has been observed in a wide variety of wild cats including lions, pumas and leopards. The characteristic behaviour is to sniff, chew, rub, roll and miaow. This effect does vary from cat to cat, but it is thought male cats get more excited than females. Perhaps over 50 percent of cats react to catnip and enter into a 5 to 15 minute trance of intense pleasure. It is believed a true psychedelic state is induced by molecules of nepetalactone reaching the brain. Cats have been observed sitting and staring at infinity and even chasing phantom mice!. The same biochemical pathways are affected by the smell of catnip as by marijuana or lsd, although the effect is short lived, harmless and non addictive!

Medicinal uses

Catnip works on the nervous system and stomach of both dogs and cats. It has a calming and antispasmodic action and can work well as a sedative. It is perfect for situations where a pet requires relief from restlessness or anxiety and may even help in the reduction of hairballs in cats. Cats that overgroom or suffer cystitis related to anxiety may well benefit from this special plant.

How to prepare and use catnip as mentioned in the book You Can Heal Your Pet by Dr Rohini Sathish and Elizabeth Whiter

Catnip cat tray

In midsummer harvest some stalks of the plant and hang in small bunches in the greenhouse or garage in a dry place. Once dry take a clean cat litter tray and sprinkle some dried leaves into it. Leave it out for your cat to enjoy. Alternatively buy a piece of cotton sheet, cut into small squares, sow together and stuff with dried leaves and leave for your cat to play with. This is far superior to the stale old catnip that might be purchased from the pet shop.

Catnip infused sunflower oil - for any nervous and stressed dog or cat

Fill a sterilised jar with dried cat nip. Fill up to the neck of the jar with sunflower oil and place in a sunny place for one to one and a half months. Shake and mix the jar daily. The oil should take on a green colour. Once this process is complete strain the oil into a sterilised jar or brown bottle and it should keep for 3 months. The infused oil can be put in a saucer and left out for your cat to self medicate or a small amount can be placed onto the pets food as required. Always check the oil has not gone rancid before offering it to your pet.

Catnip at CVets

We have sourced a batch of catnip (nepeta cataria) for sale in the practice. It has been grown without the aid of any artificial chemicals. We hope to have the plants available for sale with complete growing instructions from mid June. It this proves to be a success we intend to start cultivation and sale of many other herbs that might be beneficial to your pets health from early next year.

For further information on catnip our vet Dr Rohini Sathish based at our bebington veterinary surgery has produced a book called 'You Can Heal Your Pet' The Practical Guide to Holistic Health and Veterinary Care.

Nick Whieldon BVMS MRCVS.