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What is Catnip?

Sunday, 30 November 2008 0:54


I keep hearing that Catnip is like pot for cats...  Is it safe?  Is this something that is harmful to cats?  My little kitty AJAX is not really old enough for catnip to take effect.  So I thought that I would research before exposing him to this phenomenon! 


Nepeta is a genus of about 250 species of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae. The members of this group are known as catnip or catmint because of their famed effect on cats—nepeta pleasantly stimulates cats' pheromonic receptors, typically resulting in the animal temporarily exhibiting behaviors indicative of being in an induced,euphorically giddy sort of state.


Effects on cats:

Catnip and catmints are mainly known for the behavioral effects they have on cats, particularly domestic cats.  When cats sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip, they may roll over it, paw at it, chew it, lick it, leap about and purr, often salivating copiously. Some cats will also growl and meow. This reaction only lasts for about ten minutes before the cat loses interest. It takes up to two hours for the cat to "reset" after which it can come back to the catnip and have the same response as before. Young kittens and older cats are less likely to react to catnip.


Approximately two thirds of cats are susceptible to the behavioral effects of catnip. The phenomenon is hereditary; for example, most cats in Australia are not susceptible to catnip, since Australian cats are drawn from a relatively closed genetic pool.  It elicits such a response in only some cats, because a genetic element is involved that is enriched in domesticated breeds. There is some disagreement about the susceptibility of lions and tigers to catnip. Some claim that the way lions and domestic cats react to catnip suggest further evidence of the genetic existence of a susceptibility to catnip outside of domestic felines.


Although no one knows exactly what happens in the cat's brain, it is known that the chemicalnepetalactone in catnip is the thing that triggers the response. Apparently, it somehow kicks off a stereotypical pattern in cats that are sensitive to the chemical. The catnip reaction is inherited, and some cats are totally unaffected by it. Large cats like tigers can be sensitive to it as well.


The reaction to catnip only lasts a few minutes. Then the cat acclimates to it, and it can take an hour or two away from catnip for the cat to "reset." Then, the same reaction can occur again. Very young kittens and older cats seem less likely to have a reaction to catnip.


These links will help you learn more:

Picture of Catnip

What's That Stuff?: Catnip

Nepetalactone Chemistry



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