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Catnip Magic: The Real Reason Why Cats Love Catnip

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Catnip is a leafy herb that’s a member of the mint family. It’s green with triangular leaves and small white or purple flowers and is fascinating because of its effect on cats.

Many cats show solid and positive reactions to the catnip plant, indicating they find it enjoyable and highly stimulating.

According to research studies, catnip can make many of our furry friends (around 70%) go into a rolling frenzy, rubbing, playfulness, dilated pupils, and goofy grins.

But why does this ordinary herb have such a powerful effect on cats? And what effects does it have on cats? Let’s find out.

The catnip chemical

Why catnip influences many cats involves a bit of chemistry and a sprinkle of their feline biology.

What works the magic in catnip is a chemical compound called nepetalactone, which is concentrated in its leaves and stems. The chemical is said to activate the olfactory receptors in a cat's nose, unlocking a funhouse of sensory stimulation in the brain.

What cats do when exposed to catnip

When cats smell or ingest, nepetalactone triggers a cascade of reactions in their olfactory receptors. This then triggers a euphoric-like temporary state akin to what human’s experience with certain stimulants.

As a result, some cats display several behaviors from this effect.

Common ways cats react to catnip

  • Rolling and rubbing: When exposed to catnip, some of the most common reactions in cats are rolling and rubbing as they try to spread to amplify the pleasurable sensation.
  • Purring and vocalization: Some felines become more vocal after contact with catnip, purr cheerfully, meow excitedly, or even chirp playfully.
  • Intensified playfulness: Catnip can make cats more playful, every so often leading to bursts of pouncing and batting at imaginary objects. In addition, some people speculate that this euphoric state helps boost a cat's energy levels and hunting instincts.
  • Dilated pupils: Some cats will dilate their pupils like humans' pupils dilate in response to excitement or bright light.

Is catnip safe for cats?

In general, catnip is considered safe for cats in moderation. The effects typically wear off after 10-15 minutes, leaving your feline to its usual self. And no, it’s not addictive for cats.

However, overindulgence can lead to vomiting or some temporary tummy troubles, so moderation is key.

Not all cats react to catnip

Catnip has the power to unlock a hidden world of feline fun. When your feline comes across or gets near it, you can observe its hilarious behaviors and appreciate the fascinating interaction between plant science and animal behavior.

However, not all cats are created equal—some will not succumb to the catnip charm.

About 30-50% of cats, especially older ones, lack the specific gene variants responsible for catnip sensitivity. Also, weeks-old kittens often don't have the necessary genetic receptors to be affected by catnip.

Bottom line, feline reaction to catnip is fascinating and continues to be a topic of research and discussion among scientists and cat lovers alike.

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