Science Explains Why Cats are Crazy for Catnip

The most dignified aloof household feline can become a rolly polly ecstatic bundle of goofy joy when it comes in contact with catnip. Cats roll in it, rub against catnip filled toys, and will even sneak into a neighbor’s herb garden in order to “score it”. Most cat lovers just smile and say their cat adores it, while others can buy ten toys filled with catnip and their furry friend ignores or even avoids the substance. For those cats who enjoy this plant, their ecstasy is a bona fide chemical reaction. So what is it about catnip that so many cats find desirable?

According to catnip (plant name Nepeta Cataria) contains the drug nepetalactone, which is a powerful attractant to felines of all sizes. Catnip activates the cat’s opioid receptors which decrease pain and activates pleasure chemicals. So in essence, the cat reaction is the same as humans to opioid drugs. In a scientific study, two sets of felines were studied, One set had their opioid receptors blocked and the others did not. Those felines who had blocked receptors showed little interest in the catnip-filled pouches because it did not produce the “high”. Those with active receptors gleefully rubbed against the pouches. This study consisted of feral felines. To test the theory on larger felines a leopard, two lynx, and a jaguar were also studied. Yes, large cats also have a marked catnip response. The experiment also included mice and dogs and it was found, just as researchers thought, that they have no pleasure in catnip. Too bad the cats would say (if they could talk) to dogs who once again miss out on the awesome benefits of being born feline.

No wonder the dog in the home looks on in amazement while their feline housemate who is usually so regal and sedate goes off the chain as if drunk for the green substance. Dogs don’t understand as it doesn’t do anything for them. Although catnip has a lovely minty tangy scent, it does nothing much for humans either. Just ask any high chaser who tried to put it in a pipe or roll it in a joint and smoke it, It simply does not work for humans. Also, for those who think their cat wants to “smoke it” and thinks blowing smoke in its face is a good idea, it’s a horrible notion. Cats don’t like catnip smoke and due to their tiny lung size, any type of secondary smoke is harmful to pets, as noted in previous articles about pets and marijuana. The same is true for cats. They do not want to get high from forced or accidental ingestion of smoke from any plant, including burned catnip.

As curious as the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland is the fact that as much as many felines adore it, all cats do not enjoy this herbal treat. According to a research blog on Prestige Animal Hospital’s website, approximately one-third of all cats have no positive response to catnip at all. It could be hereditary; however, some cat parents have reported adult cats who were littermates who have differing responses when introduced to it. In addition, most elderly cats and kittens can have a marked aversion to catnip. Cats don’t become fond of catnip until they are about six months old yet don’t need to be slowly introduced to it. If your adult feline pet has the genetic makeup to enjoy it, they will let you know during its first exposure. It might follow the same logic as some humans have differing reactions to morphine and other opioids. Yes, it’s funny to see a cat “stoned”, however, it’s important to remember that if your cat is inebriated, be sure to keep it inside and away from outdoor dangers like unfriendly animals and traffic. Some cats get frantically energized and tear around the house jumping around and crawling on furniture like an out-of-control buzzed house guest. Others get mellow, friendly and sleepy. There’s no way to predict your cat’s reaction lest you try it.

Some pet parents just say no to catnip and that is a personal choice, but for those who think the substance might be beneficial to their cat, there are many ways to obtain it. You can grow it, buy it fresh, buy it dried, purchase an essential oil, etc. Growing it yourself ensures that you are giving your cat the freshest product processed without any chemicals or preservatives. Like any other pet product for sale online or off the shelf, reading the label is essential. Yes, felines who love catnip will sniff it, eat it and roll around in it, but don’t worry about your cat “overdoing it” or “overdosing” if you find it sneaking into the garden in the middle of the night or yowling for the catnip toy put in their toy box. Yes, cats exposed to catnip will crave it if they whiff the scent of it in the air. Fencing your herb garden will not only keep the kitty out but also rodents and other invaders who also find an open moonlit garden quite a temptation. Just like any other treat, the pet parent should be in charge. Moderation is best with anything, as too much access to catnip might dull their enjoyment. Be sure to have other engaging toys that are not catnip scented and keep them engaged with brain games such as follow the laser light or hide and seek.

Studies have, however, shown another benefit of catnip for cats and humans. A study cited on the Mosquito Review website, proved that the oil from catnip can be ten times (ten times!) as effective as DEET as a mosquito repellent. Catnip also works for pesky flies too. This is fabulous news for those who hate the smell of DEET-based mosquito repellents and/or are allergic to them. You can plant it around your porch area, or purchase distilled catnip oil. So whether you are entertaining your favorite house feline or protecting yourself from nasty bug bites, the latest word from science declares catnip quite a wonderful herb indeed.

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