Cats and catnip: Just what is the catnip attraction and why do some cats ignore it?

Cats and catnip: Just what is the catnip attraction and why do some cats ignore it?

Does your cat love catnip? Have you ever had the joy of watching your pussycat’s pleasure at encountering this potent feline favourite herb and wondered just why he has such an ecstatic reaction?

Cats react in differing ways to this perennial, aromatic herb (Nepeta cateria) of the mint family:

  • Some cats do not react at all. Generally these individuals do not have a gene for catnip detection or reaction or they are too young yet to show a response. These individuals account for less than a third of the feline population.
  • Many cats will react enthusiastically when exposed to catnip, writhing around the floor, rubbing their head and bodies against the catnip-filled toy and grasping or kicking at the toy that is giving them so much pleasure.

Some cats have such a powerful response that their owners wonder if their cat has been drugged! Rest assured catnip does no harm to your precious pussycat. It does, however, have an effect on the pleasure centre of your cat’s brain. Specifically it is the chemical nepetalactone that triggers their response. This chemical is emitted from the catnip plant leaves when disturbed, releasing their aromatic oils and irresistible scent.

Cats and catnip: Just what is the catnip attraction and why do some cats ignore it?

Tips for Catnip Toy Play

  • Give your cat a catnip toy when you leave them alone or when you are occupied. This will keep your cat amused and prevent any anxiety or destruction on your departure.
  • Do not leave catnip toys with your cat. Instead only give them to your cat periodically. This will keep their interest in them.
  • Don’t be alarmed if your cat only plays with their catnip toy for a few minutes at a time. This is normal. Take the toy away and produce it again in a few hours time and they will probably react again.
  • Likewise, don’t be alarmed if you see your cat writhe around the floor as if they are in pain. They’re not. But they are in ecstasy, enjoying their very unique feline fantasy experience
  • Catnip in good quality catnip toys can be reactivated by a quick twist of the toy. Your cat should be able to get up to a year’s playtime from one toy. Great value!

Cats and catnip: Just what is the catnip attraction and why do some cats ignore it?

Catnip properties
The properties of catnip, or catmint as it is sometimes known, have been known to man for centuries. Consumed as a tea brew, catnip has been used as a mild sedative for humans (similar to Valerian) and has also been valued due to its insect repellant properties.
It is, however, catnip’s irresistibility to our feline friends that has us in raptures. Watching a cat on a “catnip high” has entertained many a cat lover!

Your cat may like to play with or nibble on the leaves of the catnip plant but it is often more convenient for owners to provide catnip within cat toys. Catnip plants are cultivated, harvested, dried and then the dried product can be inserted within cat toys. It is important that this form of catnip is of high quality and of sufficient quantity to enable the cat to respond. All too often owners have tried inferior quality of quantity of catnip-filled toys and are disappointed that their cat has no response.

Equally baffling to owners is the cat who responds intensely to a catnip toy, then walks away disdainfully only a few minutes later, as if he has no idea what the fuss was about! This is a normal response. Cats quickly habituate to the scent and the reaction diminishes. Generally the response returns within a few hours so it is a good idea for owners to take the toy away and reintroduce periodically. In this way, their cat will be stimulated and enjoy his toys over the long term. In fact good, quality catnip toys can last for a year or more. Twisting the toy causes more of the intoxicating chemical to be released, thereby stimulating your cat once more. Pure pussycat pleasure!

Cats and catnip: Just what is the catnip attraction and why do some cats ignore it?

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