Catnip-Crazed: Why Your Cat Goes Wild for the Green Stuff
For feline fanciers everywhere, one way to make our cats especially happy is to provide them with catnip. In many pets, catnip induces a state of bliss and encourages silly antics, from rolling around to pouncing at an imaginary mouse. But what exactly is catnip and why does it seem so enticing to our cat companions?
Nepeta cataria, known as catnip, is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Catnip, like spearmint and nettle, has been used by humans for medicinal purposes for centuries, most commonly as a nervine with a relaxant effect and to soothe gastrointestinal upset.
Catnip (or more precisely, Nepetalactone, the oil contained in catnip) produces a state of euphoria and activity in cats. Nepetalactone works on the pleasure centers of the feline brain, such as those areas that control hunger and reproduction.
If you’ve ever supplied your cat with this green treat, behaviors you’ve probably witnessed include:
- Rolling around
- Rubbing face and body on catnip
- Pouncing and other forms of play
- Whisker twitching
- Running through the house
The effects of catnip tend to last 20-30 minutes. In general, what you’ll see are a number of normal behaviors – except amplified! Many cats become very playful while others may become engrossed in eating the catnip (and you can almost always expect your cat to take a long nap afterward).
Catnip: Not Every Cat’s Cup of Tea
What’s interesting about catnip is that it doesn’t work for all cats. In fact, these reactions are genetic for approximately 70-80 percent of felines. For the remaining 20-30 percent, catnip may as well be plain old grass.
Catnip also does not affect young kittens, likely because they’re still developing. It only begins to prompt some of these crazy behaviors in cats over the age of six months.
Grab the Green!
If your cat is one of lucky ones who experiences bliss from this interesting plant, it’s a wonderful treat to add to your cat’s list of favorite goodies. Despite seeming like a “kitty drug,” catnip is actually quite harmless and isn’t addictive. By adding some catnip to your cat’s scratching post or cat tree, you can help encourage more daily exercise.
Whether you choose to grow some Nepeta cataria for your feline friend or just opt for store-bought toys and treats, catnip is likely to have your cat in a frenzy of fun – purr-fect for the indoor cat!
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