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Why Do Cats Like Catnip?

(April 20, 2010)

Nepeta Cataria or catnip is a member of the mint family. It is a perennial herb and is native to Asia and Europe and has been imported to America and Canada. There are about 250 species of Catnip. Catnip is also known as Cat’s-play, Cat’s Heal All, Cataria, Catmint, Catrup, Catswort, Catwort, Field Balm, Garden Nep, Herba Cataria, Herba Catti, and Nebada.

Catnip can cause amazing reactions in cats. Some go crazy while other appear to be drugged. All species of the cat family (tigers, mountain lions, lynx, lions and domesticated cats) respond to it. This strange behavior is attributed to the chemical Nepetalactone which is found in catnip. This chemical is released when the leaves of the plant are broken. The olfactory system brings out the reaction. Cats react to the strong odor which is said to resemble a substance present in a female cat’s urine. Cats that cannot smell will react to it too. All cats respond differently to it. 10 -30 % of cats do not show any change in behavior at all.

When a cat is given catnip it will first sniff it, rub against it, lick it and then eat it. The sniffing produces the reaction. If a cat sniffs catnip, the cat will be stimulated but if it eats it, it acts as a sedative.

Usual responses to catnip include:-
  • Increased playfulness
  • Rolling around on the floor
  • Stumbling or falling
  • Kicking with the back feet
  • Stalking or chasing
  • Feistiness
  • Rubbing their whole bodies or heads in the herb
  • Salivation
  • Unusual vocalizations
  • Chewing the catnip
  • More playfulness
The effect usually lasts for about 10 minutes followed by a 30 minute period where the cat is immune.

This catnip reaction is inherited. Male cats respond more than females ones. Neutered males do not react as strongly as ones who have not been. Cats that have this inherited reaction may not respond when under stress or in a new place. The effects also decrease if catnip is given more than once a week. Kittens younger than 8 weeks old will not react. Most cats develop the response by 5-6 months of age. They must be at or near sexual maturity to respond to catnip.

Catnip is safe for your cat. It will not overdose on it. Most cats know when they have had enough and will not have any more.
Submitted by N M on April 20, 2010 at 11:33


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