Cats are fascinating animals, and observing them from day to day is a source of constant surprises. Understanding their body language and behaviors is key to establishing a stronger bond. You can also use some of your pet’s soft spots for training purposes – and catnip is definitely one of them!

Why are the cats crazy for catnip, and how does it influence their brain? Let’s start by taking a look at the plant’s origins and application to understand its specifics better.

What is catnip?

Catnip is a plant with Mediterranean origins. Currently, the species is present in Europe, Asia, Australia, North America, and North Africa. Due to its pleasant smell and taste, catnip served the ancient Romans as a spice. It’s a medicinal plant with a long history of use and various therapeutic properties. It has a diuretic, calming, and diastolic effect, among others. 

For centuries, catnip has been used as a medicine against colds, gastric, and kidney issues. But let’s not forget that it’s also a beautiful plant, and thus it is often used for decorative purposes.

The scent of catnip is quite intense – it resembles rose jam. Some consider it pleasant, and some don’t – it depends on the preferences. However, you won’t find a single cat that doesn’t adore it! 

Why do the cats love catnip?

The essential oils in catnip make cats literally go mad! The reason is simple – it contains an organic chemical compound named nepetalactone. The substance is still under research, but for now, we know that it impacts the cat’s behavior the same way the pheromones do. 

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That explains why the animals – regardless of their sex – start behaving similarly to the female cats in heat when exposed to catnip. Most likely, the nepetalactone activates the pleasure center in the cat’s nervous system, stimulating dopamine production. Thus, the reaction of the cat to catnip may indeed resemble a narcotic high. 

However, it’s worth noting that catnip doesn’t work as a drug in terms of long-term effects. There are two fundamental differences. First – the cat cannot get addicted to catnip. Second – after the short “high”, the animal loses interest in the plant for quite some time. So, you don’t have to worry about creating any dependency with catnip. It’s entirely safe for your animal.

Do all the cats respond to catnip?

It’s actually a myth that all the cats adore catnip. The susceptibility to the effect of nepetalactone depends on the genetic factors – some cats don’t show much interest in the plant because they lack the particular receptors. As far as now, the affection for the plant isn’t linked to any particular breed. It’s just a genetic lottery.

There is, actually, another plant that works the same (if not stronger) on cats. It’s valerian – a plant commonly used for medicinal purposes as a mild herbal sedative. Most cats go crazy when smelling valerian, behaving the same way as when exposed to catnip.

How do the cats react to catnip?

Cats smelling catnip is a true spectacle. Observing its behavior at this particular moment can be fascinating, since the cat enters the state closely resembling the narcotic high. The reaction can be triggered by dried catnip or fresh catnip plant.

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When the cat finds catnip, it starts to sniff it intensely. It’s followed by licking and biting. The animal then starts rubbing against the plant – just like when it’s trying to leave its smell on the things in the house to mark them. The rubbing intensifies – the cat may even start rolling around over the plant. This narcotic-like state lasts for around 10 minutes. Then, things come back to normal.

Is all the feline family crazy for catnip?

Yes – it’s not only domestic cats that go crazy when exposed to the plant. The same happens to wild cats, including lions, tigers, pumas, and other felines. Kittens, however, remain indifferent to the catnip’s scent until they reach sexual maturity. That confirms the hypotheses of nepetalactone resembling the mating pheromones when it comes to scent. 

How can you use catnip’s potential?

Since the cats have such a strong affection for catnip, you can use it as a training tool. It’s definitely more effective and better for your pet’s health than snacks. You can give your cat some catnip as a reward for good behaviors. The plant will be helpful with excluding the undesirable ones, too – like scratching the furniture.