Wyatt and Virgil, our cats, are due for a trip in to our office to have their annual checkups and receive their necessary vaccinations. Wyatt loves to come to the office. I believe he sees it as a break in the monotony of sleeping 18 1/2 hours a day and performing surveillance of the cat food bowl during the balance. Virgil, on the other hand, hates it.
When we first arrive, I usually let them roam through the office. Sadly, Virgil generally spends the majority of the day hiding. There aren't many places he can cram his oversized body, but he has managed a few creative spots over the years.
His most successful hidey hole was inside a small compartment in my desk, stuffed into the space behind the tower of my computer. It took about 15 minutes and a small search party to locate him that time. Extricating him was akin to negotiations with a suicide bomber holding a detonator switch in his sweaty, shaking hand - he was so ensconced in the wires attached to the computer, it is amazing no damage was done throughout the ordeal.
Virgil is shown after indulging in some catnip, one of his favorite treats. Dr. Stephanie Daverio is a veterinarian at WIlliamsport West Veterinary Hospital. She warns of the dangers associated with catnip, but also says that used “recreationally,” catnip is OK. Catnip is a perennial herb in the mint family. Indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean and eastern Himalayas, catnip was a once cultivated crop in Italy centuries ago. Interestingly, it was grown for people, for its medicinal properties, as a mild sedative (or stimulant) for some people, a gastrointestinal/indigestion medicine, and was even used for menstrual cramps.
Wyatt is not shy, in fact, I'd say he is remarkably easygoing. He spends the majority of the day at the office hatching his next ingenious plan for the biggest catnip heist in history.
He's a repeat offender, having been caught red -er - pawed - before. He even did some time behind bars for it.
But, even after completing our patented two-step program for catnip addicts: 1. We're not letting you near any catnip; 2. Deal with it, on several occasions, he jumped off the wagon with all four feet. Wyatt, I'm afraid, cannot be rehabilitated.
It doesn't help that we stock some quality catnip - according to the testimony of our frequent flyers.
Wyatt became hooked on the "marinated mice" he pilfered from the waiting room display shelf - he had chewed one of the plastic tubs open, snipped all the tails off the toy mice and we found him rolling around on the catnip. It's disgraceful, really, finding him in that condition, falling-down drunk and drooling.
So, what exactly is catnip, anyway? It's a perennial herb, a weed, really, in the mint family. Indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean and eastern Himalayas, catnip was a once cultivated crop in Italy centuries ago. Interestingly, it was grown for people, for its medicinal properties, as a mild sedative (or stimulant) for some people, a gastrointestinal-indigestion medicine, and was even used for menstrual cramps.
Catnip now grows wild all through North America, and can be grown easily (and take over) a garden or be cultivated indoors just about anywhere.
The catnip plant contains a compound called nepetaloactone, which is reported to have psychosexual and mild hallucinogenic properties for cats, but the exact mechanism of its action is unknown.
Not all cats react to catnip. An estimated 10-30 percent of the domestic cat population has not inherited the autosomal dominant gene responsible for a cat's response to catnip.
Interestingly, very young kittens even have an avoidance response to catnip.
Kittens begin to have the catnip response usually by about 3 months of age, but senior cats may lose their reactivity to catnip as they age. Catnip is detected by the vomeronasal organ in the back of the roof of the mouth in cats.
If catnip is enclosed in a capsule and swallowed, cats feel no effects. Cats must essentially sniff the stuff to experience it.
Cats exhibit a variety of embarrassing (for them) and entertaining (to us) reactions to catnip and can be seen sniffing, licking, cheek and chin rubbing, body rubbing, chewing or eating the plant or leaves, rolling and shaking their heads.
Some cats become wild or even aggressive under the influence of catnip, so it is advised that if your cat is already a bit aggressive, catnip should probably be avoided. Catnip causes a stimulant-type affect that lasts in cats for up to 15 minutes, after which they seem to need a serious power nap to recover, typically lounging lazily for at least 30 minutes.
Most cats cannot be restimulated by catnip for an hour or more after exposure. Since catnip acts as a central nervous system stimulant, cats that are prone to seizures should probably avoid it, as it may induce more frequent or severe seizures.
In my roving for information around the wonderful World Wide Web, I came across quite a few articles about catnip. However, one must be very cautious about the information obtained in this manner. Even sites with articles written by so-called "experts" can be misleading.
For instance, one site claimed that catnip is not a drug because it is a plant and is "natural." To my dismay, the author went on to assert that because it was a plant and was natural, it could not be harmful. This is very dangerous thinking and extremely poor reasoning!
Folks, here's the definition of "drug" from a pharmacological standpoint: a substance, natural or artificial, that is used to treat disease or discomfort.
Most of our modern drugs have either direct origins from nature or were inspired by it.
For example, foxglove is a plant that produces digitalis, a cardiac glycoside (heart stimulant) that can be used to treat certain specific heart conditions in animals and people.
Nobody would argue that digitalis is a drug, despite its "natural" origins. It is also lethal if taken inappropriately. So, something as lovely and delicate as a lily CAN KILL YOU - if you choose to eat it. "Natural" is not always synonymous with "innocuous." Particularly in the hands of dummies who don't do their research before eating, say, mushrooms they find in the yard.
So, OK, back to catnip. Yes, it's a drug. Is it innocuous? Depends.
Most scientists who have studied it seem to think it is not harmful to cats, and does not seem to show any signs of dependency or addiction in that species. Obviously, they have not studied Wyatt.
Most veterinarians, armed with the latest information about catnip, recommend it only as an occasional treat, a "recreational" drug, and advise not allowing cats to overindulge.
There has been some evidence that chronic exposure to catnip might permanently decrease cognitive ability in some cats (the word dopey comes to mind).
And although too much of a good thing may be bad, a little nip every now and then.
Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital.