Catnip: its composition and its effect on cats

Catnip and Its Effect on Cats


What is catnip (Nepeta cataria) and what effect does it have in cats? Does it get them high? Are all cats madly attracted to this plant? The truth is that catnip does have an effect not only in cats, but also in other felines including tigers, lynxes, cougars, servals, and leopards.

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Composition of Catnip

Catnip also goes by other names. You can call it catmint, catwort, or field balm. The plant is original from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and some parts of China.

Nepeta cataria is a perennial herbaceous plant of short life which blooms from late spring to autumn. The plant grows to heights of 20 to 39 inches.   It is a member of the mint family and the plant actually resembles a mint plant.

The plant contains terpenoid nepetalactone, which is the main oily component.  This oil is extracted from the plant using steam distillation.

Effect on Cats

Nepetalactone is the feline attractant in catnip. These plants are known to have a behavioral effect on cats and other larger members of the feline family. But not all cats react to this oil. Due to a genetic predisposition, there is a 33% of cats that are not affected by the plant.

Some common behaviors in cats that come in contact with catnip include licking, rubbing against the plant, rolling on the floor, pawing, and chewing it. In other words, they enter cat bliss.

An overexposure to the plant can cause dizziness, anxiety, drooping, and purring. Some even purr, meow, or scratch and bite at anything that crosses their path. This effect would last for between 15 and 20 minutes, time after which the cat’s olfactory nerves get fatigue and he can´t sense the smell.

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