Why Do Cats Go Crazy For Catnip?
You give your cat a toy filled with catnip and watched his antics with amusement. Have you have sat back and wondered, “Why do cats go crazy for catnip?” How does this simple herb affect felines, and why do so many kitties love it so much, while others aren’t as impressed by it?
First Off, What is Catnip?
Catnip is an herb within the mint family. It affects felines like your domesticated kitty, as well as panthers, tigers, and lions. Therefore, it’s found in a variety of cat toys, and many pet parents even make their own toys using the herb because their cats go crazy for it.
Feel Good Pheromones
Cats with an inherited sensitivity to catnip will experience intense feelings when they smell the herb. Catnip is thought to mimic feel good pheromones and stimulate receptors within the feline brain that are responsive to these pheromones.
This is why cats end up rolling around, rubbing their faces in a catnip toy, and acting strangely after they smell it. Some felines may even become vocal, hyper, or a bit aggressive and protective over the catnip. But when cats eat it, it may mellow them out instead.
Crazy for Nepetalactone
What is it about catnip that gets kitties so excited? Experts have pointed to a chemical called nepetalactone, which is found in the herb’s volatile oil. This oil is in the stems, seed, and leaves of the herb, and all it takes is a couple of sniffs for a cat to feel totally blissed out.
But the effects of this chemical are short-lived, as they’ll usually only last roughly 10 minutes. And again, the effects will vary amongst felines as well, with some becoming calm or mellow, and others becoming really active and playful.
After a few minutes of fun with catnip, your kitty will lose interest. And it will take roughly two hours before your cat’s body responds to the herb again.
Dried or Fresh is Best
The type of catnip used will affect the intensity of your cat’s experience, provided that he is one of the 50 percent of kitties that reacts to the herb in the first place. Although you can purchase catnip sprays, they’re usually not as effective as fresh or dried catnip because they typically don’t have enough of the chemical nepetalactone.
Whether dried or fresh, the herb is safe, even if your cat eats a bit, and it isn’t addictive. But because the oils will dissipate quickly, it’s a good idea to store dried catnip in your freezer to preserve its potency.
Whether you grow your own catnip or purchase it from the store, you can even use it as a tool to train your cat. For example, you can rub some on a scratching post you want your kitty to use, or you can sprinkle some in your cat’s new bed to make it a spot that he’ll gladly call his own.
Can Your Cat Overdose on Catnip?
Typically, cats know when they’ve had enough catnip, but if your kitty goes a bit overboard and eats too much of it, he may experience vomiting or diarrhea. As long as he takes a break from catnip, his body will come back into a state of balance naturally with some time.
Other than that, the herb is safe and non-toxic, though some pet parents choose to stick with organic varieties. Some will even grow their own catnip at home so that their cats can enjoy the herb fresh or dried.
You typically won’t be able to tell if a kitty is sensitive to catnip until he’s around three months or older. But if your feline friend loves it, let him enjoy it every couple of weeks in order to prevent the diminishment of its effects.
Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.
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