What is Catnip and Why Do Cats Love It?Published November 8, 2012
Flickr User lalastiers
There is hardly anything more fun and entertaining for cat lovers than watching a kitty’s ecstatic reaction to catnip. When deeply under the influence of Nepeta Cataria (a purple flowered member of the mint plant family) affected cats will seem inebriated or intoxicated, sometimes losing their balance, shaking their heads, salivating profusely and rubbing themselves on the floor or against wherever the catnip was offered. The active ingredient which is so appealing to felines is Nepetalactone, a compound isolated from the Nepeta Cataria plant.
While we freely feed catnip to our kitties, or give them toys stuffed with the potent herb, we still really do not fully understand all the reasons why some cats go crazy for the stuff while others seem to be totally immune to its charms. Since a cat’s ability to be affected by the plant is a genetically inherited trait, not all kitties react to catnip. In fact, only 70% of all felines are turned on by its heady fragrance. Young kittens who are only a few weeks old do not fall under its spell, and some kittens show a strong aversion to its odor.
We do know, however, that catnip closely resembles 3-Mercapto-3-methylbutan-1-ols (MMB), a major protein component of female cat urine. With the aroma of catnip possibly mimicking feline sexual communication pheromones, it may be irresistible to some felines. This said, there is no difference in how intact or neutered males react. While some feline guardians say that male cats (intact or neutered) respond more strongly to catnip than females, there is no scientific evidence to support this theory.
Cats often become drowsy and fall asleep when the effects of catnip wear off, generally within 10-15 minutes and remaining immune to its scent for about 30 minutes. Once this immunity wears off, cats will again respond to catnip as quickly and strongly as their initial encounter with the plant. Since the plant is not toxic, there is no danger of a cat overdosing, although some kitties may occasionally vomit if they have consumed too much. Some cats enjoy both sniffing and chewing on catnip.
According to an article about catnip featured on Petplace, the nepetalactone molecule resembles those of opium. By exciting certain opioid receptors in the brain it causes a similar reaction as opium or morphine. Catnip is not a drug or narcotic, but since it does have analgesic properties it may help in alleviating kitty’s pain.
Whether big and wild or small and tame, all cats seem to be drawn to catnip’s seductive scent. Watch some of the big cats delight in a catnip treat at Big Cat Rescue in the video uploaded to YouTube by BigCatRescue
Does your cat enjoy catnip? Tell us in a comment!