Why Do Cats Like Catnip?
What is Catnip
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae, the mints.
There are a number of varieties within the mints and Catnips.
Why is it Attractive to Cats?
This is a question that has not been absolutely answered yet!
This is what we know:
Nepetalactone is bicyclic terpenoid, i.e., it is a ten-carbon compound derived from isoprene with two fused rings. The structure and the effects are similar to those of valepotriates.
Nepetalactone was first reported in 1941 after it was isolated by steam distillation of catnip.
Nepetalactone is also present in the wood of tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), shavings of which are often used in cat toys.From Wikipedia
- The Active ingredient of Catnip is Nepetalactone (see sidebox)
- Catnip is not a "drug" or a narcotic.
- The nepetalactone is an essential oil released when the catnip plant is bruised. Until the catnip is bruised many cats do not react to it at all.
- When a cat encounters catnip, it usually sniffs it, rubs and rolls against it, licks it & finally eats the catnip. It's the sniffing that produces the cat reaction.
- Its chemical structure is similar to that of the valepotriates derived from the herb valerian (Valeriana officinalis) which also has a catnip-like effect on some cats. Similarly active compounds are actinidine found in valerian, iridomyrmecin, dihydroactinidiolide and matatabilactone.
- Catnip resembles a component of female cat urine odorant MMB and some people have suggested that catnip might mimic kitty sex communication pheromones. There is no difference in reaction in cats that are neutered, males or females.
- Several insects use nepetalactone as an element of their pheromones some of them are, Parabemus fossor: a beetle, Graeffea crouani: stick insect, Aphidus colemani: a type of aphid,
- There is no know danger to cats who eat catnip. If they eat too much they might puke but they are not poisoned. Catnip is mildly sedative and this might make the cat sleepy. Hard to tell really because a cats sleeps 15 hours a day anyway!
- Typically the reaction to catnip lasts about 5-10 minutes then the cat will be quiet and sleep. Some cats get aggressive, others will play. Some cats just want to roll around in the catnip. The cats will not react to catnip for another 2 hours.
- Nepetalactone enters the feline's nose. Cats detect it through their olfactory epithelium. Some evidence suggests that it is not through their vomeronasal organ (an auxiliary olfactory sense organ that is found in cats). At the olfactory epithelium, the nepetalactone binds to one or more olfactory receptor.
Are all Cats Attracted to Catnip?
- Age has an effect. Wee kittens less than 12 weeks do not react or are repelled or afraid of the smell. Older cats also have a reduced reaction.
- All species of cats (Felidae) including Big Cats react to catnip. It is not limited to house cats.
- 30 % or more cats do not react at all to catnip. Cats that come from where catnip is common are more likely to react. Many Australian cats do not react to it. Reaction to catnip is hereditary and is a dominant trait. It is carried on a normal chromosome NOT a sex chromosome.
Big Cat Rescue video with Catnip
Can I Grow Catnip?
It is native to Europe & Asia, however has become naturalised in America & Canada after being introduced. There are approximately 250 species of Catnip, and this figure doesn't include hybrid species
Catnip is a hardy perennial that is easy to grow, if no one eats it out of the ground. Seedlings are available from garden stores herb sections. It is also easy to grow from seed. I often just throw some store bought catnip in the ground and there are enough seeds to provide catnip all season. It likes sun but will tolerage almost full shade.
To dry, just cut and hang out of reach of cats. When it's dry, place in a closed container or plastic bag and serve as required.
It is a common weed and once you know what it looks like it is easy to recognize. The smell is distinctive. Various varieties are more or less attractive to cats.
Are there Other Plants like Catnip?
Valerian, Silver Vine, Honeysuckle, are some plants that also attract cats. See my article about plants that cat like.
Catnip's chemical structure is similar to that of the valepotriates derived from the herb valerian (Valeriana officinalis) which also has a catnip-like effect on some cats
Catnip as a Bug RepellantIowa State University found that the nepetalactone in catnip is a mosquito repellant. It is more effective than DEET. Catnip probably does not last as long since it is volatile but catnip is not toxic.
It also repels termites and cockroaches.
Mice and Rats also seem to dislike the smell and it used to be planted to repel them. (Maybe it just attracts more cats!)
Actinidine, a compound found in valerian and silver vine, is a pheromone for a variety of insects. It is used for the biological control of some insects.
Human use of Catnip
Catnip leaf tea was a popular beverage and like chamomile tea, the catnip tea has a mild sedative effect on humans. The herb has been used as a remedy for colic, minor aches and pains in the gums and teeth, indigestion, and as a help to sleep. Valerian is often also used to calm and help sleep. It had many uses in the early days and catnip escapees from the North American European settlers garden adapted and thrive now wild.
Catnip, uses for humans Medicinal and other uses of catnip.
This article is provided for information only. It is not to be used instead of consulting a VET. If your kitty is sick get some help. Catnip is not poisonous but if your cat is in distress get some help.