Catnip – Fun or Dangerous?

Reprinted from

catnip-high-catCatnip (Nepeta Cataria) is an herb belonging to the mint family which has been used by man since the days of Ancient Egypt and by cats for even longer. It has a remarkable effect on many cats, stimulating them and relaxing them at the same time. Its feline appeal lies in a chemical called nepetalactone which is present in its stem and leaves. Although the plant exudes its characteristic odor all the time, it is much more attractive to cats when the shoots are damaged or withered.

Nepetalactone is an unsaturated lactone that does for some cats what marijuana does for some people. Cats take off on a ten minute “trip” during which they appear to be in a state of ecstasy, rubbing and rolling on the plant. All species of cats react in this way, even lions, but not every individual reacts to it. The deciding factor is genetic. Fifty to sixty percent of adult cats show a reaction to catnip. For the first two months of life kittens are repelled by catnip. The positive or neutral response does not appear until they are three months old. 

Scientists have not determined how or why the chemical substance in catnip affects cats. They assert that it does no lasting damage and that after the catnip “trip” the cat is back to normal with no ill effects. Valerian and Canadian Honeysuckle are plants that produce similar behaviors in cats.

While cat owners may have reservations about offering their cats loose catnip, they will find that catnip stuffed in toys heightens the cat’s interest in stationary toys that would otherwise be considered “dead prey”, lifeless and boring. Toys that have pouches for catnip offer an advantage in that they can be emptied and refilled with fresh catnip. Pioneer Pet has designed several of these toys. A new alternative to loose catnip, which can be messy, is catnip-infused plastic discs. These discs give off the smell of catnip for up to three months. Catnip toys should be stored in an airtight container with a pinch of catnip and brought out for twenty minutes play at a time. Like any herb, it looses its essential oils if left exposed to the air.


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The Scoop on Litter

Before the advent of kitty litter, cat boxes were filled with newspapers. Entrepreneur George Plitt came up with the idea of packaging ashes from burned wood for cats to use. The cat litter industry had its birth one day in 1947 when one of Edward Lowe’s neighbors who was tired of dealing with sooty paw prints, asked for some sand. Edward’s father owned an industrial absorbents company in Cassopolis, Michigan so instead of sand, Lowe suggested using absorbent clay. The neighbor loved the product and soon returned for more.

Realizing that he was on to a good thing, Lowe filled 10 small bags with ground clay, called it Kitty Litter and approached a local pet store. The shop owner was skeptical because sand was available for next-to-nothing and he doubted that anyone would pay 65 cents for a five-pound bag of Kitty Litter. “So give it away,” Ed told him. Soon customers were asking for more and were willing to pay for it. Lowe visited cat shows and traveled to pet stores across the country selling Kitty Litter from the back of his 1943 Chevy Coupe. By 1990, Edward Lowe Industries, Inc. was the nation’s largest producer of cat box filler with retail sales of more than $210 million annually.

The next major advance in cat box filler came in 1984 when Thomas Nelson, Ph.D., an enterprising biochemist, developed the first clumping litter. While studying organic chemistry, he investigated the molecular structure of clay. He discovered that some types of clay trapped urea through hydrogen bonding and prevented it from breaking down. Consequently, there was no offensive ammonia odor. He found that clays that were dried but not baked were very absorbent and would form a clump when the cat urinated on them. The clump could then be removed, thereby getting rid of the urine in the litter box and making the jobs of litter box cleaners everywhere much easier. Between the two men, a wildly competitive and every-growing industry was spawned that is expected to bring in an astounding $765 million by 2003.