The effect of catnip on cats has been one that has baffled the scientists and cat owner’s alike, and if you have ever seen a cat react to catnip, you will understand the fuss. Catnip, scientifically known as Nepeta cataria is a perennial herb from the mint family that contains the active ingredient Nepetalactone. It is this oil present in the herb that has such interesting affects on kitty dearest, and has been known to evoke frenzy and excitement in even the most docile of cats.
But not all cats react in the same way to catnip. Cats will often roll in it, lick it, sniff it, rub their cheeks into and eat it; and effects can range from hyperactivity and playfulness to mild sedation or aggression. Other common behaviors you may witness include purring, drooling, biting, scratching, meowing, and other general displays of kitty euphoria. Interestingly, not all cats react to catnip as it only affects about 30% of our feline friends. This is because responsiveness to catnip is a genetically inherited trait and is almost altogether absent in cats from certain regions where catnip is not indigenous, such as in Australia. In addition, kittens generally do not react at all until they reach about 4 months old, and elderly cats are also less likely to respond to the herb’s “drug-like” effects.
But what makes catnip so irresistible for kitty? It seems that cats have a unique olfactory receptor for this particular chemical and scientists have theorized that the Nepetalactone mimics a certain cat pheromone. Whatever the scientific cause, catnip is an exciting treat for many cats and can be used wisely to encourage playfulness and activity in lazy cats, encourage scratch-post scratching and interest in otherwise dull cat toys.
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