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For a special occasion to celebrate your cat, or even as an everyday treat, you know just the thing: catnip. For centuries, humans found – and continue to find – pleasure in this mint-smelling plant and the way felines react to it.
When you expose your cat to even a small sprinkling of a dried portion, the changes in your cat’s behavior are instantaneous. First, they’ll crouch down to get a good deep whiff, and then flop over and start rubbing their face all over the area where the scent resides.
What is it about this innocuous-looking leaf with the heavy smell that makes cats go so crazy?
WHAT IS IN CATNIP, ANYWAY?
Catnip is a perennial with the scientific name of Nepeta cataria. It originates in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but is now available – growing as a weed – around the world. It’s a member of the mint family. long known for its mysterious grip over a cat’s behavior. The plant is ornamental, in many gardens due to its ease of growth and tolerance for drought and insects. Its aromatic essential oil, Nepetalactone, is attractive to butterflies. This oil, present in the stem and leaves, is catnip’s special ingredient that causes cats to become temporarily euphoric.
WHY DO CATS LIKE CATNIP?
Once your cat starts inhaling catnip, the spell lasts about fifteen to twenty minutes. Then they’ll become immune for a period of time, before once again becoming susceptible to the effects of the volatile oil. Your cat will behave as if they are in the throes of breeding season, rolling and rubbing his cheeks on the source of “the feels”. Most pet owners know the effect of the minty-smelling herb on even the fussiest of felines.
Statistics say that 80 percent of cats fall under the trance induced by catnip’s apparently heavenly aroma. Since the results appear like the behaviors of mating felines, experts think it may have something to do with the endorphins released when cats come in contact with the catnip. To further this theory, kittens under six months of age tend to not be susceptible.
THE SCIENCE OF CATNIP
When Nepetalactone enters your cat’s nose, their receptors pick it up using sensory neurons within the nasal cavity. When that happens, neurons send a signal to areas of the brain which trigger emotions and behavior. Depending on the individual cat, the reaction can range from sleepy drooling to wild acrobatics. You can enhance the effect by offering fresh catnip, or dried catnip in large doses. Some cats may even express unpleasant mood changes, such as anxiety or aggression.
CATNIP: IT’S NOT JUST FOR RECREATIONAL USE ANYMORE
Despite its entertainment purposes, catnip also comes in handy for training, or as a stress buster. Does your cat get nervous when company comes over? Break out the catnip just before they arrive. Does your cat ignore their scratching post? Encourage them to use it by rubbing catnip into it.
Creative owners will find other ways to use catnip’s power to their advantage. In the meantime, if your cat enjoys it, make the most of this kitty-happy herb, and the laughs it can provide. It may offer one more way to solidify the bond between you and your cat.
Catnip is a popular item for cat owners the world over. It’s so well known that it pervades cat culture as a household word. Many cat owners consider it a staple, along with kitty litter and furry mice.
Does your cat love catnip? Share a fun story in the comments!