There’s no denying the joy that is brought about (both for you and your cat) when you introduce a little catnip into your kitty’s playtime. The question that most of us simply don’t have an answer for, though, is: what does catnip do to cats to get them so darn riled up? Well, once again, the Humane Society has us covered with some solid information on the effects of catnip on your cat.
What Is Catnip?
Rather than being some kind of wild, mythical feline hallucinogen, catnip is actually a relatively benign variety of the mint family. It just so happens, however, that, of the 250 different species of mint, the essential oil found in the variety that becomes catnip, which is called nepetalactone, has a rather curious influence over roughly half the feline population. The propensity for outrageous and uproarious behavior upon exposure to this particular variety of mint is actually a genetic trait, which only about 50% of cats inherit. If your cat does possess the gene, it will only come to fruition between three and six months of age, and a kitten any younger will show no signs, one way or the other.
What Does Catnip Do To My Cat?
What is catnip doing to your cat? Well, it may be doing any one of three things, and that depends on whether your cat has a sensitivity to the nepetalactone or not, and, if so, whether your cat has merely smelled or actually ingested the catnip. As we’ve stated, only about half of cats are sensitive to this particular species of mint, which means that half, whether smelling, eating or otherwise, aren’t going to exhibit any unusual behaviors. For cats that do possess the catnip sensitivity gene, smelling the catnip will have an energizing and invigorating, sometimes even crazing effect. On the other hand, eating the catnip will often create a sluggishness that starkly contrasts the exhilaration of the olfactory response. Though nothing has been proven definitively, the most commonly accepted hypothesis is that the scent of the catnip is very similar to the pheromones that trigger receptors in a cat’s brain and tell it that it’s happy. Your cat will usually only respond to the catnip for about ten minutes, but will require about two hours for the effects to completely wear off.
For Humans and For Freshness
It may come as something of a surprise to you to learn that catnip actually has some effect on and benefit for humans as well as cats. It can provide humans with a similar soothing quality to chamomile tea, and has been brewed thusly for some time. Additionally, it has proven itself to be a nearly insurmountable mosquito repellent. It’s allegedly ten times as strong as diethyltoluamide, or DEET, but is less commonly used as a bug spray because it only lasts for a couple of hours. Finally, as an organic substance, catnip does lose freshness over time, but keeping your cat’s favorite catnip toy in a sealed container in your freezer can slow this loss of freshness. That way you and your cat can enjoy the wonders of catnip for even longer.