We’ve all seen those videos online of cats freaking out over a handful of catnip or maybe you’ve witnessed such behaviour first hand. But what exactly is catnip? And why does it affect cats the way that it does? Read on to find the answers to these questions and learn 5 interesting things you didn’t know about catnip.
1. It’s Been Used to Fight Swine Flu and Insanity.
Nepeta Cataria, commonly referred to as Catnip, is a perennial herb originating from Europe. For over 2000 years, Catnip has had a wide range of uses. It’s been used as a tea, as hair dye, as an insect repellent, it’s been smoked. It’s even been used as medicine, to relieve a variety of illnesses, including swine flu, arthritis, insanity and flatulence. While it’s medicinal properties remain a source of debate, its effects on cats are a little less contentious.
2. Catnip is Similar to LSD.
When a cat reacts to Catnip they’re really reacting to the oils inside the herb. When a cat squeezes, bites or presses onto catnip it breaks down the leaves and releases the volatile oils within. Nepetalactone is one of these oils and has been found to have a hallucinogenic effect similar to LSD on cats. This hallucinogenic effect typically lasts around 10 minutes followed by a 60-minute refractory period in which the catnip has little to no effect. After the refractory period, the cat may experience symptoms again if it is exposed to Nepetalactone once more.
3. It’s Hereditary.
Your cat’s infatuation with catnip could be down to its genes. Research suggests that somewhere between 50 – 80% of cats experience symptoms when exposed to catnip with the remaining moggies being uninterested altogether. So if you’ve ever eagerly rushed home with a bag of catnip only to find your cat clearly unimpressed with your new bag of herbs. You now know why.
4. It’s Like Being in Heat (almost).
If you’ve ever witnessed a female cat in “heat” you may have noticed a sudden change in behaviour. From rubbing themselves over people and furniture to rolling around on the floor like they’re trying to put out a “pleasant” fire. When in heat these behaviours occur once the hormones FSH and LH increase to a level sufficient to bring about ovulation. This ovulation causes the cat to seek out a male partner at a time when pregnancy is more likely to occur. Catnip can elicit similar behaviour in cats leading some to view it as an aphrodisiac. However, the behaviour is not necessarily sexual and both males and female cats have been found to have similar reactions.
5. Big Cats Like it Too.
Lions, jaguars, tigers, cougars and bobcats have all been found to react positively to catnip, however, the jaguars and lions had the strongest reaction. Research from the University of Tennessee found the big cats reacted in a similar way to domesticated cats although the effects lasted longer, for up to an hour. The researchers theorised the jaguars and the lions reacted the strongest as they wouldn’t encounter the plants in their natural habitat and may be attracted to the unusual scent.
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