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One Very Popular Plant

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While cats are normally viewed as models of sophistication, catnip is one of the few things that will break that façade of nobility, and besides the entertainment factor, this perennial herb is also a powerful tool used to resolve behavior problems.

Microencapsulated catnip products, as well as herbal catnip blends are the newest trends in a category that has been around a long time.

SuperCat recently introduced Catnip Stickers which are smaller pieces of microencapsulated “scratch and sniff” stickers. Their Catnip Markers and Catnip Stickers are also excellent for redirecting problem behavior. For example, application of microencapsulated catnip to a scratching post could make it more attractive than a new sofa or slippers.

Kristine Le, from Petsport USA in Pittsburg, Calif., said their highest-selling catnip infused toys include Kitty Freak Ladybug, Mouse Ball and motion-activated Kitty Flash toys.

“We’re seeing a big increase in interactive toys that contain catnip this year,” Le said.

How It Works

Catnip relies on a genetic response, which many breeds do not have in their genetic makeup. In fact, fewer than 70 percent of cats have the “catnip gene,” studies say. Cats that do have the gene are responding to the chemical nepetalactone, which occurs naturally in catnip and closely resembles MMB – a compound found in female cat urine. It’s believed that catnip mimics pheromones, resulting in a psycho-sexual response that affects both male and female cats.

Herbal blends of catnip, however, have succeeded in capturing the majority of cats who do not normally respond to catnip. Mixtures that include chamomile, honeysuckle and other herbs are among the most popular.

“About half of the cats that don’t react to catnip will react to a catnip blend that contains valerian root,” Pascal Bedard, owner of From The Field in Rainier, Wash., said. “Dried valerian root is very safe for cats, but only a little is needed as it can be off-putting to humans and has an ‘old sock’ smell. When a pinch of valerian is added to catnip, it can be a very effective cat attractant.”

Another thing experts say to look for is the cut of the catnip, adding that organic catnip can also be more potent.

“Organic catnip is beneficial as it keeps intact more of the essential oils in the catnip plant that cause cats to respond,” Robert Cohrs, of the Kong Company in Golden, Colo., said. “The cut of the catnip is also important. For example, the leaf and flower cut used in the KONG Naturals Premium Catnip and KONG Refillable Catnip Toys is more effective because it keeps more of the leaves and flowers of the plant intact, where much of the catnip oil is concentrated.”

Offer Options

Retailers who may not want to carry a large selection of catnip toys can still benefit from the herb’s popularity, by stocking their shelves with catnip infused sprays and oils that consumers can spray on the toy of their choice.

“Many of our clients’ pets share toys,” Abby Bishop, store manager of Only Natural Pet in Boulder, Colo., said. “We learned that some of the most popular [dog] toys are also cat-friendly, particularly our wool and cloth toys, which owners can easily spray with catnip-infused oils to be even more attractive to cats.”

Kimberly Turner, owner of A Cheerful Pet, based in Norma, N.J., a company that specializes in the production of hardboiled wool from Nepal, agrees.

“Our natural wool products are excellent for both dogs and cats,” she said. “All of our pet toys are made of 100 percent all-natural boiled wool that appeals to all species. When sprayed with microencapsulated catnip, cats find them that much more fascinating.”

There are also a number of cleverly designed products retailers can carry that will appeal to both the consumer and a cat.

Yeowww! Cat Nip Toys, by DuckyWorld, offers a wide range of catnip product that could potentially catch a customer’s eye, including the Yeowww! Cigars that are 7 inches long and fully loaded with Yeowww! organically grown catnip. A set of 24 even comes in a wooden box with a slide top lid.

Fat Cat’s Zoom Stuffers are reusable, over-the-top designed cat toys that owners can stuff with catnip pods. Once the catnip gets old, owners buy a new catnip pod and stuff it again.

Many store owners say they get asked regularly about how to alleviate common behavioral issues, and while some may know to suggest catnip products, newer employees may not.

Educating the staff to mention all the benefits of catnip products to customers is one way to increase sales in this category.

“The regular availability of catnip and cat toys in general can reduce the stress of living in a household and prevent unwanted behaviors, such as swiping at moving feet, that occur when cats are given no outlet for their instinctive desire to stalk, chase, and capture prey,” Cohrs said.

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