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Why Do Cats Like Catnip?

Why Do Cats Like Catnip

 Green, pungent and weed-like, catnip is favored by my cats throughout the world. Found in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, catnip recently made its debut in the US. Found in many cat toys, is there a reason why cats like catnip?

A beautiful flowering plant that grows in herbaceous environments, the chemical that is released that makes cats go crazy is the terpenoid nepetalactone. A very strong oil, it is extracted to make into catnip sprays as well as catnip-scented toys. In nature, wild cats have been known to roll around in a path of catnip plants, imitating their domestic friends.

The catnip plant, also known as Nepeta cataria, grows rampant in the wild and easy to replicate at home. I planted a few seeds one summer and several catnip bushes popped up around the front yard and backyard. It belongs in the same family as the mint plant, which has also be known to grow like a weed. In humid environments where there are mosquitos or garden pests, catnip is a great alternative to harmful pesticides or bug sprays. You can apply some of  the oil from the catnip plant on your skin and hope that you don't attract a pack of feral cats (it's happened to me before).

The affects of the nepetalactone chemical on a cat triggers their olfactory nerve. Symptoms include drooling, rolling, excitement, fatigue, happiness and even aggression has been seen in many cats. Approximately 67% of the cat population responds to this chemical. The reaction only lasts about 15 minutes so it's common for your cat to loose interest in a catnip toy due to olfactory fatigue.

Catnip is not only beneficial to cats, but also to humans. You can take the catnip leaves and soak in hot water to create a great herbal tea to help soothe an upset stomach. 

This miraculous plant is such a treat for those who respond to it. Does your cat respond to catnip? What is their reaction when they get their paws on a toy?


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