Catnip, also known as catmint and catswort, is an herb plant that belongs to the mint family. Some cats react to an oil produced by the plant and experience a short-lived euphoria when they smell it. Catnip spray is a concentrated form of this oil that is typically sold in pump-spray bottles. The spray can be applied to cat bedding, toys, scratching posts and anything the owner wants the cat to be attracted to. It is used to draw a cat's attention to a certain area, or just to give the cat something to enjoy for a few moments.
The chemical in catnip that causes a response in some cats is nepetalactone. Young cats may first show sensitivity to this chemical when they are between three and six months old. Only about half of all cats are sensitive to catnip. The rest will typically not react at all when they smell the herb. Despite the blissful reaction some cats have after smelling catnip spray, it is not believed to be dangerous or addictive for the animals.
Cats that are sensitive to catnip show behavior that can range from playfulness and excitement to an unusually calm and relaxed state. Each cat generally will react differently to catnip spray. The same cat may even have different reactions to catnip at different times. Some cats seem content to sniff and rub against things treated with catnip, while others enjoy chewing the leaves of the plant. There appear to be no negative side effects of catnip, so it can generally be used safely on a regular basis.
Though the precise way catnip works is not clear, it is known that the effects usually only last for about ten minutes. Cats will also typically not respond to catnip spray again for about two hours after originally smelling it, perhaps because the cat's brain chemistry needs to switch back to normal. If a cat is not sensitive to fresh or dried catnip, catnip spray should also have no effect.
Catnip spray allows cat owners to apply this chemical to specific areas without the need for the actual plant. Using the spray may not produce a better or different reaction than using actual catnip, but it should be at least as effective. One big benefit of using spray instead of fresh or dried catnip leaves is that it will stay effective much longer. The oil in catnip will dissipate from fresh or dried leaves after a short while, making them useless. The leaves also have to be cleaned up when the cat's fun is over, while catnip spray leaves no mess behind.