Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What's the Deal With Catnip?

Many species of felines seem to love eating catnip, it has even been used as bait to hunt lynx and bobcats. It effects many species of felid, including domestic cats.

The catnip response involves ingestion, rubbing, rolling and periods of gazing into space, and lasts for about ten minutes on average. However not all cats show the response and some are completely indifferent to catnip. Kittens under 8 weeks of age also typically show no response.

The active ingredient of catnip is nepetalactone.  There are a few theories as to exactly why it provokes this response.

Some feel catnip activates a response related to courting females. It is more effective on cats of reproductive age.  However it does not actually produce a sexcual response and so may be a more general category of social signal.

Others feel catnip simply produces a pleasurable feeling, perhaps similar to the intake of marijuana in humans.

There is no evidence that catnip is at all harmful to cats.

  • Hart, B.L. (1974). The catnip response. Feline Practice, Nov-Dec, 8, 12.
  • Hill, J.O. et al (1976). Species-characteristic responses to catnip by undomesticated felids. J Chem Ecol 2, 239-253.
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