The Catnip Response

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Next to their ability to purr, one of the most delightful things I treasure about my cats are their antics when I give them catnip.

Normally most of my felines are VERY dignified and grown-up kitties. In fact, I have heard the other house cats talking about my favorite queen behind her back and calling her "stuffy".

But just give her a pinch of catnip and she goes totally ga-ga.

I used to worry about whether catnip was good for my cat or not.

Have you ever wondered what is going on in your cat's own head when it starts to play and play with a catnip toy.

One of my cats often performs gymnastic routines worthy of the Olympic gold medalist when she has catnip!

Is the cat experiencing the equivalent of a marijuana high? :-)))

Well, you'd be surprised . . .

First, a few facts about Catnip:

  • Catnip (Nepatia cataria) is a plant native to North America.
  • Fresh leaves of the catnip plant have a mint-like scent.
  • Dried leaves of catnip smell like alfalfa.
  • Catnip contains an active compound called Nepetalactone.
  • Nepetalactone is chemically similar to human hallucinogens.

In all members of the cat family, contact with Catnip causes a peculiar reaction called the Catnip Response.

The typical sequence of the catnip response include:

  • Initial Investigation
  • Oral Contact
  • Grasping
  • Kicking
  • And finally . . . Wild Abandonment!

The catnip response lasts an average of about 6 minutes but is most intense for 2-3 minutes.

The behavior pattern associated with catnip may be more closely related to predatory behavior. A cat’s reaction to the detection and capture of prey parallels many of the phases of the catnip response. Pawing and marking, clasping and rolling onto the side, and rhythmic kicking with the back feet are common to hunting behavior and the catnip response.

There is a definite range in the amount and degree of the individual cat's reaction when presented with some catnip.

Some cats are eager when catnip is offered and seem to revel in its effects. Other cats may appear to avoid it, despite prior displays of catnip sensitivity.

Generally, male and female cats of reproductive age are more sensitive to catnip than very young or old cats.

Catnip is commonly incorporated into cat toys. Some people apply catnip to the surface of scratch posts to attract a cat’s interest.

Catnip is available in a dried form and marketed as a cat treat, or may also be grown in indoor gardens, providing a fresh supply.

Some owners even grow catnip to distract their cats from chewing ornamental houseplants.

Catnip is not toxic to pets. And while we as owners may enjoy much pleasure and laughter watching our kitties antics when sniffing catnip, it is by no means necessary for the well-being of any cat.

So . . . you can let your kitty enjoy the occasional catnip "high" without worrying that it's not good for its health . . . just don't overdo it


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