Catnip gets Isabelle’s and Stinky Louise’s motors humming, while my third cat Puccini is distinctly not a stoner. What’s up with Meowy Wowie? Catnip is nonaddictive and completely harmless in cats, affecting about three-quarters of them (all types, by the way, including lions and tigers). The active ingredient is naturally occurring oil (nepetalactone). Here’s how it works. The oil enters nasal tissue once inhaled, stimulating neurons which trigger certain regions of the brain. Those regions (amygdala and hypothalamus) impact a whole lot of your cats’ internal world, from emotions to hunger to sexual drive. In other words, the typical cat rolling around on the carpet in an apparently blissed-out state, followed by a case of the munchies. Sound familiar? (Beware: reasons unknown, some cats get aggressive on catnip, sort of the “nasty drunk” syndrome).
Catnip does not get people high (cats’ brains and those of undergrads are very different organs) but the behaviors certainly have a lot in common. But what about dogs…? A stimulant for cats, catnip can have the opposite effect when consumed by a dog (or if in fact swallowed rather than inhaled by cats). Think “dog nap” instead of catnip. The plant is sometimes used as a natural pooch sedative: a few fresh catnip leaves (up to a half teaspoon per pound of food, or a few leaves sprinkled in the drinking water) may help calm an anxious pup (keep in mind as July 4 approaches). Catnip is also a possible flatulence remedy and a diuretic (a drug which promotes urination) in both people and dogs, plus a mosquito repellent, although I’d strongly recommend a chat with either your own M.D. or your veterinarian before starting a regimen of catnip for you or your pooch.
So while catnip’s effect runs from benign to potentially helpful (and damn funny with two of my cats), how concerned should we be about our pets and the now legal drug marijuana? That’s next week’s column.
Ken White is the president of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA.