Catnip has been a source of fascination for cat owners for centuries. Your feline will roll around on the floor, flip, purr, and meow – all from the effects of a simple plant.
But what is it about catnip that has cats so spellbound?
What is Catnip?
In this article, we'll uncover the science behind catnip and its effect on cats. We'll explore what catnip is and how it affects cats neurochemically and genetically.
We'll also discuss why cats love it, the potential dangers and how it can be used as a natural play stimulant.
So, if you've ever wanted to know the secret to cats' fascination with catnip, you've come to the right place! Let's dive in and discover more about cats and catnip.
How Does Catnip Affect Cats?
Catnip is an herb that belongs to the mint family. The main active ingredient in the herb is nepetalactone, which has sedative and stimulant properties. It's responsible for the unique reaction cats experience when they smell it.
When a cat smells catnip, its effects are almost immediate, with the cat going from a relaxed state to one of intense excitement. Cats may roll over in the herb; paw, lick, and chew it; rub their faces against it; or salivate excessively.
This reaction lasts about 10 minutes and can be repeated several times until the cat loses interest.
It has long been speculated that catnip has an effect on cats due to its resemblance to a pheromone. Pheromones are a type of chemical signal released by animals that influence certain behaviors.
When a cat smells catnip, the pheromone-like compound in the herb causes a similar reaction to what they would experience when they encounter a potential mate.
It is also believed that cats are attracted to the herb because of its smell. Catnip has a sweet, earthy aroma that cats seem to enjoy and it is believed that the smell mimics that of their prey.
The effects of catnip are not dangerous for cats and are only temporary, lasting about 10 minutes.
After that, cats typically go back to their normal behavior and will not be affected by catnip again for at least an hour.
Why Do Cats Love Catnip?
The mysterious attraction between cats and catnip is something that has been puzzling scientists and pet owners alike for many years.
Although the exact reason why cats are so attracted to catnip is not yet known, researchers have discovered that catnip contains a compound called nepetalactone which is believed to stimulate the cat's sensory receptors.
When a cat smells this compound, it produces a strong sensation of pleasure which can be seen in their behavior.
Catnip has been around for centuries and is known for being a powerful attractant for cats and other felines.
It can be used as a training tool, but it is primarily used as a recreational activity for cats.
Catnip can be found in many forms, including powders, sprays, and dried plants.
When cats smell the nepetalactone in catnip, they become more active and excitable than usual. This reaction can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour.
Cats roll around and rub against the catnip in a playful manner – the same way they would with a regular toy. They may drool, meow, purr, chirp, and even experience a sense of euphoria.
It's thought that the nepetalactone reacts with the receptors in the cat's brain, triggering the release of endorphins- the body's natural feel-good chemicals.
The effects of catnip on cats can vary from individual to individual, however, some cats may not respond to it at all.
In conclusion, the secret behind cats' fascination with catnip is still largely unknown.
However, the power of the nepetalactone compound found in catnip is thought to be responsible for the reactions cats experience when they are exposed to it.
The Genetics of Catnip Sensitivity
It is believed that approximately two-thirds of domestic cats have a genetic sensitivity to catnip.
This sensitivity is determined through the cat's genotype, and the receptor on the cat's brain called the TrpA1 gene, is responsible for determining whether the cat will have any reaction to the catnip or not.
Most wild cats, including species such as lions and tigers, lack this gene and are therefore not affected by the catnip in any way.
Interestingly, it is thought that the domestication process itself may have been responsible for the development of this gene in cats, as they may have been selected by humans to possess this trait.
Most cats don’t reach sensitivity to catnip until they are at least 6 months old, and the sensitivity fades with age, suggesting that if the genetic mutation is not passed down to the cat’s offspring, then it will eventually be lost.
Furthermore, studies have also shown that kittens under the age of 8 weeks will not react in any way to catnip, suggesting that the receptor in the brain needs time to mature before it can be properly triggered.
Neurochemistry of Catnip
Catnip produces an odor and flavor that cats find irresistible. This is due to an aromatic compound called nepetalactone, which is found in the leaves and stems of the plant. When cats smell nepetalactone, it triggers a physiological reaction in their brains.
This reaction releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which produces a feeling of euphoria.
Additionally, nepetalactone interacts with other brain receptors to cause the cats to become more active and social. Thus, the neurochemical effects of catnip are what makes it so alluring to cats.
Catnip as a Natural Play Stimulant
Catnip is a natural plant known for its stimulant effects on cats. It is a member of the mint family, and its scientific name is Nepeta cataria.
The plant contains a chemical called nepetalactone, which when released by cats gives them the sensation of euphoria.
This can last for up to 10 minutes and is why cats become so excited when in contact with catnip.
Studies have shown that cats may use the sensation as a type of play stimulus, allowing them to become more active and engaged in their environment.
Catnip may even help cats to be less aggressive towards other animals and humans. As such, catnip can be used as a natural play stimulant, creating a safe and enjoyable experience for both cats and their owners.
Is Catnip Safe for Cats?
Catnip is a well-known herb used to delight cats and is found in many different pet toys and treats. But is it safe? Well, the answer is yes.
Catnip is well tolerated by cats and has been used for centuries as a form of natural medicine.
It occurs naturally in the environment and is safe for cats of all ages and sizes. Catnip is not poisonous and has no harmful effects on cats. It is also non-addictive, so cats won’t become dependent on it.
Catnip contains a chemical called nepetalactone, which gives off a strong odor that cats are particularly sensitive to. When cats inhale this odor, it causes a physical and psychological reaction in them. Cats may display a range of reactions to the herb, including purring, rolling around, drooling and meowing.
This reaction can last for up to 15 minutes at a time. While some cats seem to be more attracted to catnip than others, all cats are capable of being affected by it.
However, catnip should be used in moderation. Too much catnip can be harmful for cats, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and restlessness.
Catnip should also not be given to kittens or pregnant cats, as it can have an adverse effect.
Overall, catnip is perfectly safe for cats and is a great way to add a bit of spice to their lives. It’s not harmful and will certainly provide hours of entertainment.
Just be sure to give it to your cats in moderation.