All felines – lions, tigers, and your beloved housecat alike – react to the volatile oil located in the leaves and stems of the catnip plant. When exposed to the medicinal oil, cats may jump, roll, drool, sing, and rub any part of their body up against the item containing the substance.
Interestingly, the effects last about 10 minutes, after which cats experience a period of up to 30 minutes where they are immune to the catnip. Up to 80% of cats follow this pattern, with kittens not responding until about 6 months of age, after reaching sexual maturity.
The History of Catnip
The various catnip plants are associated with the mint plant, and also have acids, tannins, intoxicating volatile oils, and sterols. This plant originates from Europe, Africa, and Asia, having been introduced to North America through the early settlers. It was used as tea in ancient times. Catnip is not addicting, and is deemed completely harmless.
There are all sorts of other medicinal uses including:
*The treatment of flatulence
*Salve for scabs, scurf and piles, along with other skin issues
*Relaxant, for children in particular
*Treatment for colds and fever
Some believed chewing catnip made you mouthy and fiery, leading to the fable where the hangmanused to take it, hoping to gain courage to perform his duties.
The Cat Connection
It makes sense cats vary in their reaction to this interesting plant; some act drunken dizzy, others get nasty feisty, and a percentage seem to ignore it altogether. Genetics play a major role in how any given cat will react.
So how Does Catnip Actually Work?
So what’s the attraction? It’s because the catnip scent closely resembles the natural sex alluring agent in adult cats: pheromones.
The nepetalactone oil from the plant is absorbed through the nasal tissue of the cat, binding securely to protein receptors, triggering excess action of the sensory neurons. It’s these cells that encourage a response in the olfactory bulb neurons, which set off a domino effect in the amygdala region of the brain and hypothalamus; the master gland responsible for most processes regulatory, including emotions and hunger.
It’s the amygdala that takes communicators from the flow of the olfactory bulb and shoots them off to specific behavioral response areas. The hypothalamus controls neuroendocrine responses via the pituitary gland, which generates a sex based response. The cat then reacts similar to a “real” intimate encounter.
It’s believed Native Americans attempted to recreate the effect of catnip on humans. They also would test it on newborns suffering from colic. Some report a natural sedative effect in children.
Other holistic practices where catnip has been used are:
*Soft tissue injuries
If you have or had a cat, chances are catnip was a hit. Catnip is available fresh from the plant, dried, or even in bubbles. Although most feline friends get their temporary legal high from toys; it’s cheap, easy, and no mess.
Catnip toys are available from all major pet stores, and vary in their potency and effectiveness. Also, many cat owners grow their own catnip in small planters, thus providing a ready supply for their pet.