catnipAlthough we may not find our cats next to a lava lamp listening to Deep Purple, jokes about cats and catnip usually hint at the kind of psychedelic effect this plant has on them. From purring to “making biscuits,” our cats are full of all sorts of peculiar behaviors, so it’s no surprise to add one more baffling quirk to the list.

However, there’s much confusion about what catnip is and how it affects our feline friends. The Pet Experts at Springbrook Animal Care Center are here to help unravel the mystery of catnip madness.

What is Catnip?

Nepeta cataria, or catnip, is a member of the mint family. This leafy, green plant contains a substance called nepetalactone, which is the oily compound your cat goes wild for. Catnip and its mint family members have been used medicinally for centuries by Native Americans and early European settlers.

While it may have a mildly sedating effect on humans, it’s quite the opposite for our feline friends. Nepetalactone stimulates various regions of the brain that are responsible for hunger, sexual response, and many other aspects of pleasure.

This “high” occurs because those pleasure centers of the brain are “lit up” when a cat licks, rolls around in, or ingests catnip. Don’t worry – while catnip may sound like a kitty drug, it isn’t addictive and is harmless when consumed.

Strange Behaviors

So what are some of the more common behaviors you might observe when Fluffy encounters Nepeta cataria? Don’t be surprised to see some bizarre reactions, such as:

  • Head and body rubbing (as your cat rolls around on the catnip)
  • Vocalization
  • Pouncing and jumping
  • Running through the house
  • Playfulness
  • Salivation

Typically, these behaviors last 15-30 minutes, and many cats take a nap immediately following all that exertion.

However, not all cats love the green stuff. In fact, about 20-30 percent are entirely unaffected, as this response to nepetalactone is genetic. In addition, kittens younger than six months do not experience the same effects – it would seem this is something cats mature into.

More Catnip, Please!

Because many indoor cats struggle with boredom and weight gain/obesity, adding some catnip toys to your kitty’s treasure trove may be an excellent way to get him or her moving! Sprinkling catnip on a cat tree can inspire climbing and pouncing, while a bit on the scratching post can entice your cat to scratch there (instead of your new couch). Catnip is also a great way to get your cat to cozy up to his or her crate or carrier!

Does your cat go bonkers for catnip? We’d love to see some pictures or videos!