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Why Do Cats Go Crazy For Catnip?

If you’ve browsed the feline section of your local pet store, then you’re already familiar with catnip and products designed for cats that include catnip. If you’ve ever witnessed a cat on catnip, then you’ve probably had a good laugh and maybe wondered what in the world is happening to your once-normal feline. Catnip is beloved among felines everywhere for its scent and effects, but what is it and what exactly is happening to cats when they’re exposed to catnip?

What Is Catnip?

Catnip is a plant Nepeta cataria that’s actually a type of mint. It has feathery green leaves and lavender-colored flowers. It’s been recognized for properties that seem to create a sense of relaxation in humans when brewed in a tea, and catnip also has some pretty interesting effects on cats.

What Exactly Happens to Cats on Catnip?

All cats have a special sensory organ called the vomeronasal gland that’s located on the roofs of their mouths. Cats use this scent organ to collect scents and transport them directly to their brains. The vomeronasal gland takes up nepetalactone (an oil in catnip) when the cat breathes in its scent. When this compound reaches the cat’s brain, it affects the cat’s nervous system in a similar way to sex hormones. This might result in exceedingly affectionate behavior, intense relaxation, and happiness. In other cats, the effects of catnip might express themselves in increased playfulness, energy, and even heightened aggression.
For pet owners who have cats with the former response to catnip, it can be used to help anxious cats relax and feel more secure when they’re going to be alone for a long period of time.

Why Doesn't Your Cat React to Catnip?

Although most cats go crazy for catnip, not all have a sensitivity to it. In fact, catnip sensitivity is an inherited trait that an estimated 40% of cats do not have. Additionally, kittens won’t usually react to catnip until they’ve reached about six months of age. So, if your cat simply isn’t interested, don’t worry. Not all cats love catnip.

Learn More About Catnip and How to Use It Safely

For the most part, catnip is completely safe for cats to smell and ingest. In fact, it can even help keep their digestive system running smoothly. However, cats can ingest too much catnip, and this can lead to gastrointestinal problems, dizziness, and difficulty walking. Remember that fresh catnip is more potent than dried varieties and ask a veterinarian at Tanglewilde Veterinary Clinic how to safely give your cat some nip.