To 'nip or not?
January 31, 2008 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Help me settle a debate on the ethics of catnip.

Last night I got into an argument with a fellow mefite about the ethics of my catnip deployment.

In the past, whenever I have wanted to get my kitties spun out on catnip, I've taken a toy full of it and rubbed it gently all over their face and body, so that they get pretty coated in the scent of it right away. They usually then go after the toy in a big way, but even if they ditch it, they've still got a heady snootful of the nip. A good time for all ensues.

I did this last night when company was over, and was informed that this is not good pet-parenting; that I should just introduce the toy and let the cat decide whether he wanted any catnip, and how much; and that my way was the equivalent of slipping someone a drug against their will, however pleasurable I was sure the experience would be for both.

Frankly this really surprised me, as I'd never really thought about it. This is just the way we always did things in my family. But then again, considering my family, this may just be one of those things I should have selectively disinherited long ago.

So what is the deal with catnip? Does it have to be consensual? Does no always mean no? Or can I rub their little faces in it with a clean conscience?
posted by hermitosis to Pets & Animals (47 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
It depends on the cat. If that's something you've always done, and something the cat enjoys, there's not anything wrong with it. It's part of your bonding and play rituals. In fact, I think my cat would enjoy that.... (goes to find toy for Cat Fun Time....)
posted by louche mustachio at 4:35 PM on January 31, 2008


It's not all completely on point, but there was actually some fairly lengthy discussion on the ethics of catnip about six months ago, beginning some ways down this AskMe post and spilling into the accompanying MeTa post.
posted by Partial Law at 4:36 PM on January 31, 2008


Freaky.

I've met cats who just weren't interested in the 'nip (about 30% of cats are genetically meh towards it), but I've never met one who objected to it. Two of ours love it, and the other is all - yeah, whatever, but he's never shown signs of hating it. The two who love it would adore it if we rubbed it all over them. (Maybe we'll try that.) They have never, ever walked away from a (fresh) catnip toy when presented with it. I think you're fine, and you are an excellent helper monkey (our term for what we think our cats would call us, if they chose to speak English).
posted by rtha at 4:38 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


In my experience, if a cat doesn't like something, it will make this fact known to you. Since catnip is harmless and your cat is not biting the bejesus out of you when you start the rubbing, I think you can safely assume that this is consensual drug use.
posted by lemuria at 4:40 PM on January 31, 2008


I wouldn't worry about it, but keep in mind that letting them find the toys on their own is also pretty amusing. I used to have a cardboard scratching post that had a little catnip holder, they enjoyed that.
posted by amethysts at 4:40 PM on January 31, 2008


I figured the "best answers" in that thread were probably tinged by people's attitudes about marijuana itself, and so I am not really sure what to do with them. What a mess those threads are!

However, substituting "my developmentally-disabled brother" for "my cat" in MY question does make it a touch more interesting.
posted by hermitosis at 4:42 PM on January 31, 2008


We're attempting some catnip-related experiments here at the gingerbeer/rtha household. The Cat is getting rubbed all over with the catnip toy. Cat is standing there. Now Cat is sniffing the toy. He's licking it. OK he's standing on it. Now he's standing on it and licking it. The rubbing of the toy ON the cat does not seem to have increased his enjoyment of the catnip. This is about what he usually does.

rtha is now opening the bag of organic homegrown weed catnip. She's rubbing it all over the Cat. He appears to be enjoying this a lot. However, he usually likes being rubbed all over; not sure if the catnip is relevant to the experience here. Cat is now rolling over in the patch of catnip on the rug. He's licking the rug. He's cleaning himself. He appears quite stoned. He's covered in catnip.

The experiment seems to conclusively prove that the Cat likes catnip. What was the question again?

Oh yeah. He doesn't mind being rubbed with catnip, but it doesn't appear to substantially improve the overall catnip experience. Mostly, he just likes catnip.

Please note: no cats were harmed in the conducting of this experiment.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:51 PM on January 31, 2008 [7 favorites]


When my cats smell catnip, it is not an issue of "do i want this right now?" but "GIVE ME THE F-ING CATNIP BEFORE I EAT YOUR FINGERS OFF"

I don' think cats are ever really not up for catnip (at least mine aren't) I have heard that you should let them eat a bit of it (once or twice a week at most) because it helps with digestion. [citation needed]

I am a little concerned that you are "rubbing their faces in it". it sounds (the way i read it) that you are shoving their heads into catnip. i would steer away from this behavior.
According to some of the websites i looked at (wikipedia), the crazy effect doesn't last all that long, so by the time they are done with whatever you have sprinkled on the toy, they probably don't need to have it still on their faces.

My cats LOVE their catnip balls. they are little hard plastic balls that screw together and have small holes in it. You put catnip inside and they bat it around and go crazy. Also, my kitty likes it when i put catnip in a tightly closed cloth bag (size of an egg) with a ribbon "tail". She flings it around the room and carries it with the tail.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 4:51 PM on January 31, 2008


Hey, whose cat are you calling developmentally disabled?

I'd never rubbed catnip on any of my pets before - they usually did a good job getting wasted on their own. Maybe you're giving them a nice body high too. I wouldn't debate the ethics too much.

Now trying to get your pets high off other drugs, that's another thing entirely.
posted by anthill at 4:54 PM on January 31, 2008


The Cat is now rolling back and forth across the catnip toys on the rug. He's all "Have you ever really licked your paw?" (He's licking his paw.) He expressed immediate and extreme interest when I got the organic weed catnip out of the freezer. I think, hermitosis, that this is a no-harm, no-foul situation.
posted by rtha at 4:57 PM on January 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


In my experience, if a cat doesn't like something, it will make this fact known to you.

Yeah, this is pretty much Cat Owner 101. You have no problem with the cats; you have a problem with the sanctimonious people who informed you that "this is not good pet-parenting." Teach the cats to sic such impolite guests.
posted by languagehat at 4:57 PM on January 31, 2008 [6 favorites]


This pretty much comes down to your personal cat-ethics, but I'll give my opinion.

When I'm the owner of a cat, I make a lot of decisions for the cat without really taking the cat's feelings or opinion into account. I keep the cat happy and comfortable, and I make sure the cat is healthy and doesn't get into trouble. With that said, if I don't want a cat to walk around on the table (even if the cat would be very happy doing it), I don't have any qualms about preventing the cat from walking around on the table. I don't have to make any compromises about what the cat can and can't walk on, because I'm the boss.

So in this case, if you think it will make the cat happy and it's the right thing to do, you should be able to give your cat catnip whenever you want. You are the boss.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:00 PM on January 31, 2008



However, substituting "my developmentally-disabled brother" for "my cat" in MY question does make it a touch more interesting.


Interesting, but in this case, not really an accurate or useful comparison.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:04 PM on January 31, 2008


If the cat likes it there isn't a problem in moderation.
posted by fire&wings at 5:04 PM on January 31, 2008


You might not want to blow your weed in your cat's face, though.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:09 PM on January 31, 2008


Well, we don't consider their feelings before chopping their knackers off. (This leads me to believe that cats are somewhat different from developmentally-disabled brothers.)

Tonight, I'm going to see if our felines like having catnip rubbed into their fur. Hmmm, I can make it a scientific experiment by just doing it to one cat.
posted by phliar at 5:13 PM on January 31, 2008


My cats have a number of catnip toys, the favourite being a squirrel with a velcro opening on its belly, so I can renew the catnip (I make a little wrap with paper towel). One cat will immediately jump on the toy when the catnip has been replenished, grab it, drool on it, lie down, pick up the squirrel and then rub it all over her face.

Then the other cat, smelling the cat nip on the first cat, will rub her face on the first cat.

So they like the catnip being rubbed on them, and sometimes I've done it for them. I don't see this as being a problem or against their wishes. They are always up for catnip play but sometimes don't even know it until the catnip is waved in front of them.
posted by essexjan at 5:15 PM on January 31, 2008


Help me settle a debate on the ethics of catnip.

Well, you're unlikely to "settle" an opinion-based ethical debate. You'll just get more opinions.

IMO, it's a cat. It's not a human. Ethical rules don't have a 1-to-1 correspondence. You keep the cat mostly indoors, right? So, would you imprison a human being in the same way? No, you wouldn't. So why not let the cat run free to realize his feline self-enlightenment? You don't. Why? Because ... it's ... a ... cat.

Now, it might be cruel to soak a cat in catnip. It might also be cruel to eat cows and pigs, but billions of people do it every day. Discussion of cruelty is not ethics, but opinion.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:22 PM on January 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


am a little concerned that you are "rubbing their faces in it". it sounds (the way i read it) that you are shoving their heads into catnip. i would steer away from this behavior.

For the record, the catnip is in a sock, and I'm petting them with the sock. Even their faces.
posted by hermitosis at 5:25 PM on January 31, 2008


I used to put socks over my cats' heads and snicker at their get-it-off dance, and spray perfume on my wrist and hold it up to their noses just to see the DO NOT WANT face. And you wonder if you're a bad cat parent? Holy crap now I feel like a fucking monster. (The cats loved me anyway.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:37 PM on January 31, 2008


Wait, did I just get called out in AskMe?

I've given you this response in person, but feel compelled, now that I've found this, to repeat myself: the cat will go for the catnip if he wants it. I don't feel like you're horribly abusing him, but I also feel like pet ownership is about more than doing whatever you want to your animals. It's like dressing your puppy in cute clothes: it's one of those actions that, to me, implies that the owner is unclear on the difference between a dog and a doll.

And ignore Cool Papa Bell. Anyone who says that meat consumption (or anything, for that matter) can be justified simply because "billions of people do it every day" is not making a cogent argument.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 5:40 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


The difference is that the "developmentally disabled brother" is a human, and the cat is an animal. You arent hutting it, if it didnt it like it wouldn't let you do it, and it seems to be a mutually enjoyable experience so I would ignore the person who got on your case about it.
posted by BobbyDigital at 5:40 PM on January 31, 2008


I would look at it this way...

I mean, how exactly do the cat's behave when this happens? Do they ever seem uncomfortable in some way? I'd let that impact my judgment about it being ok or not. You might want to check out their behavior afterwards for some time. If something seems weird then you might want to give it another thought.
posted by albatross5000 at 5:43 PM on January 31, 2008


Both sides of this argument depend on assumptions by humans about what cats "want."
posted by rhizome at 5:47 PM on January 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


It sounds fine to me. If the cat enjoys it, and it is part of your bonding/play activities together, then I don't really see a problem with it.
posted by MythMaker at 5:55 PM on January 31, 2008


Not all kittys like it.

Like with any substance I think as long as it's not harmful or being abused it would be ok.

You know your kittys personality. Are they the type of cat that needs a coffee to get going in the morning? Or after a hard days work, really does enjoy a cold one after work to unwind.

Or are they a bit more of a party animal? That's cool, that's what the weekends are for, right? But if you catch them trying to palm off a kitten for a fix - then it's definitely gone too far. Would kitties really like cold turkey after all?

It could be used wisely as a treat or bribe? Chocolate generally makes me quite agreeable.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 6:03 PM on January 31, 2008


To be honest, I find it a bit weird that you're using language like sex to ask this. This is not the same kind of boundary issue, unless you'd pack an SO off to the doctor for vaccinations unannounced and without consent. If your cat doesn't like the way you interact with it with the catnip, believe me, it'll let you know, and very clearly too. And it'll likely put up with your catnip behavior even if it does find it mildly annoying as long as you're including petting and attention in the deal. This is not an ethical question, in my opinion, although rubbing the cat all over with catnip does sound a little odd. But I have seen weirder, and it sounds entirely harmless. In the grand scheme of "things I might do that harm my pet," this is so mild it doesn't even make the list. Your cat sounds very loved, and some catnip playtime really isn't harming it at all. If you like doing it, and the cat's not pissed, I really wouldn't spend any more time worrying about it.

If you're really concerned, just leave the catnip in a place the cat knows to find it. Someone I used to catsit for used a cardboard box as the treat/catnip/toy station and the cat expected a little catnip dropped there to roll in every day. It was easy for me, and the cat chose whether or not to go have some catnip.
posted by Tehanu at 6:07 PM on January 31, 2008


Petting your cat with catnip is NOT like dressing a dog up in cute clothes. Cats who like catnip (and your cat clearly does) will often seek it out. I have never seen a dog trying on a hat.
posted by misha at 6:17 PM on January 31, 2008


though i not-infrequently berate my boyfriend (jokingly, mind you) for "drugging the cats," in my experience, cats have a pretty long memory for perceived slights: if you've done the sock-and-catnip thing a number of times, they would probably be avoiding your besocked hand, if it was something to which they took serious objection.

i usually find myself pretty far over on the treating-the-cats-as-human-family-members spectrum, but i really can't imagine you're causing any lasting trauma for them. that said, i'd refrain from this activity when these particular kitty killjoys are over.
posted by wreckingball at 6:50 PM on January 31, 2008


In my experience, there are cats who are never interested in catnip and cats who are enthusastic about it every time they encouter it. So my first question would be: is there such a thing as a cat who sometimes does and sometimes doesn't want catnip? I'm sure there's some research out there where you can find the answer. If the answer is no, then I'd say your approach is fine.

If yes, then the next question is: Is their behaviour when unwillingly high indistringuishable from when they are enthusiastic about it? I doubt it. Seeing as this whole argument is based on comparison to humans, I'd say that someone who's high on pot against their will, is going to be acting differently than someone who wishes to be high. Cats tend to be very good at expressing their displeasure, and, in my observation, catnip does nothing to impair this ability. In any case, if the answer to the first question is yes, then I'd expect someone's already done the research that answers the second question.

If the answer to both questions is yes, then I'd say that your friend is right.
posted by winston at 7:36 PM on January 31, 2008


Cat's do not have the kind of consciousness that human beings do, and people who talk about being "good pet parents" when the subject is catnip fundamentally don't understand this and so cannot be trusted to offer an opinion worth paying attention to. These people are far more damaging to pets than is a bit of catnip.
posted by OmieWise at 7:41 PM on January 31, 2008


(doh. I forgot to spellcheck)
posted by winston at 7:41 PM on January 31, 2008


However, substituting "my developmentally-disabled brother" for "my cat" in MY question does make it a touch more interesting.
posted by hermitosis at 7:42 PM on January 31 [+] [!]


Only one is a disabled person, with a heavy emphasis on person, and the other is a CAT.

I love cats. I still mourn my Kitty, who died several years ago now. They are amazing, beautiful creatures.

But they are not people. They are cats. We imprison them against their will, we neuter them against their will, we feed them little pellets of food. We breed them to have our desired characteristics.

That said, about your exact method of playing with your cat: if he/she didn't like it, they would avoid you when they saw you with a new toy. Cats are stupid, but not that stupid.
posted by jb at 7:44 PM on January 31, 2008


I've found with cats that if a cat doesn't like something you're doing to it, it has a lot of different ways of letting you know. Hissing, biting, aggressive clawing, and running away are all helpful reminders that a cat will give you if you are doing something that the cat doesn't like.

Cats like catnip. You give your cat some catnip. If she didn't like the way you were giving it to her she'd show her objection. Your friends are off the rails here.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:56 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've given you this response in person, but feel compelled, now that I've found this, to repeat myself: the cat will go for the catnip if he wants it. I don't feel like you're horribly abusing him, but I also feel like pet ownership is about more than doing whatever you want to your animals. It's like dressing your puppy in cute clothes: it's one of those actions that, to me, implies that the owner is unclear on the difference between a dog and a doll.

Cats are fuckin smart. As has already been said, if they didn't want you to do it, they wouldn't let you do it. A cat will jump up and walk away if you try to pet it with your hand all soaked with water. But catnip? It sits there, is receptive, and plays with your hand, usually.

Consider the fact a cat can't take her paw, grab a pawful of catnip, and rub it all over her back. If she could, maybe she would. In the meantime, you have to do it, and she'll just sit there liking it.

With domesticated and pet animals, there's no point to these discussions, because they tie in with the idea that the animal should be able to make its own choices and have things how it would prefer them, when we have it locked up in a man-made apartment.

What else is there to consider? It's like debating whether you should call the cat to dinner, or leave the dinner out for it to find. Does it matter? It's gonna eat the damn dinner.
posted by crunch buttsteak at 8:14 PM on January 31, 2008


The next time your friends make this comment to you, just give them another beer.
posted by 4ster at 8:20 PM on January 31, 2008


I've given you this response in person, but feel compelled, now that I've found this, to repeat myself: the cat will go for the catnip if he wants it. I don't feel like you're horribly abusing him, but I also feel like pet ownership is about more than doing whatever you want to your animals. It's like dressing your puppy in cute clothes: it's one of those actions that, to me, implies that the owner is unclear on the difference between a dog and a doll.

The difference is, dressing a puppy is not pleasant for the puppy.

This is what I think we here on the 'filter refer to as "overthinking a plate of beans."
posted by konolia at 8:31 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm reluctant to continue contributing to this thread, since it's been pretty well establish that I'm viewed as a total prude. But I have to say, I'm surprised that we've gotten to the point where catnip is equivalent to food. I mean, I'm not asking anyone to deprive their pets of something necessary to their continued existence.

As someone who grew up with four cats in the house, I assure you that they can (and do) rub it on their backs when they want to. Three of my cats enjoyed rolling around on their catnip toys and had a great time with the process. The fourth was nonplussed by the experience and simply avoided it.

I've been to casa de hermitosis several times and interacted with his cat a lot. The cat's not particularly fond of being held and shows minimal interest in the catnip toy. To me, these two data points suggest that he would rather not be picked up and rubbed with the catnip sock. I'm not saying that we should stone hermitosis to death or that his cat is being irreparably harmed; I just felt like the cat would have been happier if left to his own devices and made the mistake of saying so out loud. I certainly didn't expect to be the brunt of AskMe's wrath about this. As it turns out, I am a sanctimonious kitty killjoy.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 8:31 PM on January 31, 2008


I'm sorry, I have no reply, but this is one the bestest questions EVAR.
posted by spock at 8:47 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


The next time your friends make this comment to you, just give them another beer.

But rub it gently on their faces and body before giving them the bottle.
posted by spock at 8:56 PM on January 31, 2008 [7 favorites]


Your friend has a good minor point. Here's a cat nip ethical code to live by: When first introducing a cat to catnip, set it in front of the cat and let the cat make it's decision. When you've observed the cat sufficiently, and you're pretty certain that the cat finds the cat nip pleasurable, then feel free to rub the cat with it. If you refrain from pushing cat nip on uninitiated cats from now on, and you'll be ethically in the clear, and you won't be creating anymore cat-ddicts.
posted by Blingo at 9:29 PM on January 31, 2008


Blingo, in the Perfect Universe That Will Never BeTM, I shot you just before you could post that. It was painless and quick, and it was necessary.

To answer the question: hermitosis, it's a cat, dude. My experience with cats is that if they are displeased with you, they will murder you in your sleep (or just, you know, get gun shy around the catnip toy in question). Seeing as your cat isn't shying away from the toy and has graciously permitted you to continue living, I'd say you're good.
posted by Ryvar at 11:37 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


You might not want to blow your weed in your cat's face, though.

Back in ye olde college days, I had a gf who smoked with me. Her cats were used to it, but never really seemed to react much either way, until one day we realized that the older tom was sitting up straight staring at the back of the recliner, and had been for something like ten minutes. Crunched paper balls, it was determined, did not bestir him.

Strictly a secondhand high, you know, but ... hey, they're like ten pounds.
posted by dhartung at 12:19 AM on February 1, 2008


My cat loves catnip. But she doesn't ALWAYS want it. Sometimes I will get it out and she will meow loudly and back away. Only to come out 5 minutes later and get into it like she always does (their brains are the size of a walnut). Cats, much more than dogs, will let you know VERY clearly if they don't like something. If the cat is enthusiastic, give 'em the nip however you want.
posted by agregoli at 7:33 AM on February 1, 2008


I'm reluctant to continue contributing to this thread.... But I have to say...
posted by Help, I can't stop talking!


Eponysterical!

But seriously, you're not the brunt of AskMe's wrath. People are just disagreeing with you (somewhat snarkily, to be sure, as is the Way of the MeFite). I think it's pretty clear yours is a minority opinion, and I'm also pretty sure hermitosis knows his cat better than you do, but you had a valid concern and you expressed it. No harm, no foul.
posted by languagehat at 9:54 AM on February 1, 2008


Okay, here's another approach, if you want to please everyone. Have some signal (gesture, sound, etc.) that you make (only) before you start rubbing catnip on the cat. The cat will learn the signal quickly and, if s/he doesn't want to be rubbed with catnip, will go away. Doesn't require much change of you and should satisfy HICST that the cat has had a chance to make a choice.
posted by winston at 7:11 PM on February 1, 2008


I hadn't even noticed HICST's comment when I answered this. HICST: sure, there was some snark from other people after you commented, but I think comments here have generally been meant to answer hermitosis's question and not to disagree with you. I think you may be interpreting this more in light of your personal disagreement than is merited.

hermitosis: I feel I should add a disclaimer to my original answer after reading HICST's comments. I answered this based on how you described your interaction with the cat. It sounds like HICST is interpreting the cat's response differently than you are, that it's sort of like mild cat harrassment. My answer original assumes that your interpretation is accurate, and the cat isn't bothered by what you're doing.

I still wouldn't frame it as animal care ethics either way, but if HICST is right, I'd frame it more as "Sometimes the cat doesn't like what you're doing. Knock it off and find something else it does like to do."
posted by Tehanu at 6:48 PM on February 2, 2008


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