Want to see your usually staid, dignified cat turn into a wriggling, fluffy ball of silliness? If she’s one of those cats that are susceptible to the influence of catnip, you can induce the silliness just about any time. While not all cats react to catnip, the ones that do tend to react strongly. They’ll sniff at it, eat it, paw it, roll around on the ground in it and generally act goofy, silly and playful. Just how silly?
So what is it about catnip that inspires these reactions? Is it a drug? Does it get them high? Sort of. Here’s the story on catnip and why cats get so goofy around it.
What Is Catnip?
Catnip is a common herb in the mint family, Nepeta cataria. It is native to the Mediterranean area, but it grows wild across most of the world now. It grows to about 3 feet high, has greyish green leaves and white and purple flowers. Cats react as strongly to fresh catnip growing in the garden — or in a pot in your house — as they do to the dried leaves.
What Makes Cats Love Catnip?
Catnip contains a chemical substance called nepetalactone, a terpene that causes a psychosexual reaction in some cats. Susceptibility appears to be hereditary, with about 75% of cats being affected by nepetalactone. The other 25% show no reaction at all. Kittens have no reaction to catnip. In fact, if you expose a kitten younger than 8 to 12 weeks to catnip, they may have an adverse reaction to it. In cats who are influenced by catnip, the reaction can be so strong that it’s commonly referred to as “kitty ecstasy.”
Cats are actually affected by the scent of catnip. Scientists believe that they chew the leaves to bruise them and release the scent, which appears to be a stimulant when it’s sniffed. When cats eat the leaves, however, catnip seems to have a sedative effect. The effects of catnip generally last about 10 to 15 minutes and then wear off. Afterwards, most cats show no reaction to catnip for one to two hours, but will react to it again after that.
Nepalactone may also have a hallucinogenic effect on susceptible cats. Cats on catnip will sometimes chase imaginary mice and pounce on things that no one else can see. Every cat reacts differently to catnip, though, so the only way to know how your cat will react is to let him at it.
Is Catnip Bad for My Cat?
Most experts agree that catnip is has no harmful effects on cats, but some pet owners feel uncomfortable giving their kittens a substance that affects them so strongly. Some cats may vomit or have diarrhea after eating catnip. If your cat reacts badly to catnip, avoid exposing him to it.
Grow Your Own Catnip
Catnip is actually quite easy to grow. You can often find catnip plants at garden stores and nurseries that sell herbs. Just put it in a sunny window and water it regularly to keep your cat supplied with a steady diet of kitty ecstasy. So, there you have it – an answer to the question: why do cats like catnip?