If you’ve ever given your kitty cat some catnip or a toy that’s been infused with this magical herb, you’ve probably witnessed some pretty coo-coo behaviour. From zoomies around the room, to frantic rolling around, this plant can make some floofs really let their hair down. But why do cats like catnip? Today, we’ll explore this fascinating plant and discover the reasons why it has a hold on so many felines.
What is Catnip?
Catnip or Nepata Cataria, is a type of flowering mint native to Europe, Asia and some parts of the Middle East. Within its leaves, the catnip plant contains an active chemical called nepetalactone which when inhaled or eaten by cats, elicits its famous psychological effects.
Why Do Cats Like Catnip?
There’s no doubt that this plant gets its name from its famous bond with cats with “cataria” being Latin for “of a cat”. But exactly why do cats like catnip?
The chemical nepetalactone is the reason why approximately two-thirds of domesticated kitties, as well as other wild cats such as lions, tigers, and ocelots, go crazy for catnip.
However, the purpose of this iridoid chemical found within the catnip plant is not to attract cats, but rather to naturally repel bugs from feasting on the catnip plant’s leaves. Nevertheless, an added bonus (for cats) is that this chemical mimics pheromones that when sniffed by cats, stimulate their sensory neurons giving them a sense of euphoria. Common reactions to this chemical include playing, purring, zoomies, vocalisation, drooling, jumping, rolling, cheek rubbing and pawing.
It’s also believed that wild cats rub up against naturally growing catnip to provide themselves with their own mosquito-repellent. When chewed, the leaves of catnip produce a more concentrated release of this bug-repelling chemical, and this may also be why some cats like to chew catnip as well as roll in it. They’re essentially opening the bottle of mosquito repellent before lathering it on, clever huh!
How Do Cats React To Catnip?
So now if someone asks you “why do cats like catnip?”, you’ll be able to tell them that it’s due to the pheromone-mimicking chemical found within the plant called nepetalactone. But how do cats react to catnip?
The type of reaction your kitty might have to catnip depends on whether they smell it or eat it. As catnip mimics the action of certain sexual pheromones, when kitties smell the intense aroma of catnip, they can behave as if they are on heat or on the prowl to find a mate. This can make them act a bit wild, running around, jumping, meowing and rolling. The effects of smelling catnip are short-lived, lasting between 10-15 minutes, and once it wears off, cats will usually mellow out and may even take a short nap.
On the other hand, when cats eat catnip, the plant will have the opposite effect. Ingesting catnip can provide a sedative effect to kitty-cats and will last a similar amount of time to if they had inhaled it. After a cat has experienced the effects of catnip, they will then be immune to its powers for around 1-2 hours.
What Are The Benefits of Giving Catnip To My Cat?
Other than it being a bit of fun for your kitty and the fact that it also provides a natural bug-repellent for them, the psychological effects of catnip can be beneficial for some cats.
Due to the calming powers that catnip provides after the initial euphoria has worn off, catnip may be helpful to relax stressed-out kitties such as Siamese cats who are more prone to developing anxiety. It can also be used before bedtime to help them nod off to sleep faster to dream about mice and that cardboard box that they love to frolic in so much.
On the other hand, the initial catnip response which makes cats more playful and active, may be helpful for lazy cats or those that need a little more coaxing to play or exercise which is crucial in preventing obesity and helping with cat weight loss.
My Cat Doesn’t Like Catnip: Why?
Around 30% of domesticated cats do not have the gene that responds to catnip and therefore experience no reaction from the herb whatsoever. Some cats also don’t like the extreme response that they get from catnip, so don’t be surprised if one day they’re mad about catnip and the next they turn their nose up.
Catnip also doesn’t affect kittens younger than 3-6 months as their brains are still maturing so lack the necessary receptors for producing a catnip response. It’s also less likely to have an effect on older cats who as they age generally become less interested in catnip.
My Cat Doesn’t Like Catnip: What Can I Use Instead?
Scrumbles has the answer!
If your kitty cat is in the 30% crowd who aren’t fussed about catnip, there are other plants that have a similar effect on felines. One such plant is valerian, a pretty purple flower whose roots can be used in products to calm stressed-out cats.
Valerian can be an even better option for anxious cats as it induces less of a hyperactivity response, rather simply chills your cat out to the max. We love giving our Chillz Calming Cat Treats with valerian to our cat Stella who gets a bit too stressy around fireworks season.
Just one delicious calming cat treat, and Stella chillz right out and gets tucked away for a relaxing nap.
They also contain 41% lip-smacking chicken as well as the gut-loving prebiotic slippery elm to soothe sensitive kitty tums.
So if you’re looking for a delicious and effective alternative to catnip, head on over and check out our nutritionally dense and calming Chillz, the healthiest way to give your cat a chill pill!