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Cats and Catnip: The Effects of Catnip on Cats

by Vetic Editorial
Published: Last Updated on 2.4K views

Cats and catnip – it’s a love story that few of us understand but it fascinates us all. Sprinkling a little catnip and watching cats go crazy over it is a favourite pastime of many cat parents (including the author). 

Interestingly, the appeal of catnip supersedes all breeds and even species. Some big cats such as tigers, lions and cheetahs are not immune to the “happy” effects of catnip. 

Catnip for cats come in various forms – pure dried catnip (grass), catnip sprays and catnip infused toys or catnip stuffed toys.

What is catnip – the herb with the power to control cats

Catnip is no magic herb. In fact, it is a very common plant found in India – Nepata cataria. It is inconspicuous and you have probably seen it grow in thickets in the more mountainous regions of the subcontinent. These herbs in their natural form also attracts cats (indoor and outdoor). 

Catnip belongs to the mint family. The plant contains a natural compound called nepetalactone. This compound is probably created by the plant as a defence against pests such as aphids and ants. 

However, it is the same compound that appeals to our feline overlords. You can actually grow catnip for cats in your kitchen garden or front garden!

We do not know how many neighbourhood felines you will attract, but if you want the feline overlords to crowd in your house, growing catnip for cats or sprinkling some is a time-tested method! 

Sniffing and licking catnip stimulates the “happy receptors” in cats’ heads. Now, these happy receptors are very similar to the human opioid receptors. 

So, is your cat “getting high” from catnip? Well…in a way, yes! 

Does catnip hurt your cat? No! 

Can your cat get addicted to catnip? Again, no. 

Will catnip work on you? NO! But you can watch your cat as they first zone out and then get the zoomies; that often works for cat parents. 

Do all cats love catnip?

Sadly, you will only be able to please half the feline population with catnip for cats in any formulation!

Only around 50% of cats react to catnip. It is because they do not have the receptors that bind the compound that gets them “high” (nepetalactone). 

Funny looking medium-long haired cat and catnip toy. The cat looks visibly zoned out and funny!

What’s an alternative to catnip for cats?

Several cat parents lament that their “Cats do nothing with catnip.”

Well, we have good news for you! That is if you want to see your cat rolling around in dried herb and doing weird things all around the house in ultimate happiness – there’s another plant known as the Silver Vine that attracts cats similarly. 

Silver Vine does not belong to the mint family like catnip and it’s not very common in India. However, several pet stores are now keeping silver vine twigs and shavings for cat lovers across the country. 

This plant has a similar compound – Nepetalactol. Cats that do not respond to catnip have a high chance of responding to silver vine. Nepetalactone and nepetalactol may sound similar but they do not bind to the same receptors. 

Nonetheless, we have seen cats that do not respond to either catnip or silver vine. That is completely fine too. When sliver vine or catnip for cats doesn’t work, you can always lure and bribe your kitty-lords with treat!!

Cats, catnips and more: scientific studies!

Wait! You don’t have to listen to us when you can read about Dr Masao Miyazaki and his work with cats’ love for catnip. (We genuinely don’t know what inspired him to conduct this study for 5+ years, but we are forever grateful!)

His team conducted the study on catnips and cats twice, first on 25 domestic cats and then on 30 feral cats (including big cats). 

These cats were divided into groups and given nepetalactone, nepetalactol and a placebo. 

A majority of the domestic cats showed positive interest in nepetalactol (silver vine). 

Even the big cats were susceptible to the effects of nepetalactol (silver vine).

Their happy hormone (endorphins) levels went through the roof after the exposure to silver vine. 

Cats and Catnips: Advantages of catnip for cats

Photo of the catnip plant - Nepeta cataria. Cats and catnip have a more interesting love story than Bella and Edward!

Did you know? When cats rub their bodies against catnip or silver vine, they repel mosquitoes. 

Yup! Nature is filled with miracles – here, it’s a a natural compound that can keep cats happy AND protect them from heartworm disease without any potentially harmful effects. 

Now, we do not know if cats keep rubbing their heads and bodies on catnip and silver vine for their mosquito repellent effects or the “high” they got from it. 

However, Dr Miyazaki says it’s an adaptive response to the hunting instinct of cats and we respect his findings (despite knowing the deviance our cats are capable of)! According to him, one feline ancestor rubbed their body against a catnip bush and chanced upon its repellant property, but accidentally discovered its ability to stimulate euphoria (happiness) in cats! 

Well, sitting still or stalking prey while being bitten by mosquitoes is indeed impossible. Which almost makes us ready to give the felines a benefit of the doubt. 

At the same time, a higher level of “happy hormones” or endorphins means lesser pain and stress symptoms for our feline friends. 

So, what do we stand to lose irrespective of why cats love catnip?! 

Why are you still here? Go get some silver vine or catnip for your cat and tell us all about the antics they pull.

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