She is the queen of the house, strolling dignified through the hallway, then perching on the table as if it's the throne from which she surveys her kingdom. She is a graceful hunter, catching her prey with speed. She is a lady, composed and calm. Then you toss a bag of catnip her way, and all that grace melts into a goofy fur ball meowing and rolling on the floor.
Catnip is a plant from the mint family of herbs native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Its scientific name is Nepeta Cataria, and it contains an oil called Nepetalactone. It is this oil which affects the behavior of cats. How? Time for a little science. According to Scientific American, it begins when the cat absorbs the Nepetalacone oil through their nasal tissue. It binds to protein receptors which stimulate sensory neurons in the olfactory bulb. These neurons transmit signals to the amygdala and hypothalamus which are the regions of the brain that regulate emotions and emotional responses. The catnip essentially acts as an artificial pheromone creating a sexual response in the cat's brain. That's why your kitty starts to act giddy when she's around catnip. We all get a little silly when pheromones are involved.
Is it dangerous, though? Can humans be affected as well? Catnip does not affect humans since our brains are different from our feline friends. As for cats, catnip is entirely harmless. The results usually only last about 10 minutes. Feel free to buy catnip toys for your cats to play with or sprinkle the leaves in the area they play in most.
What if your cat doesn't react to catnip at all? Is there something wrong? No, not all cats are affected by catnip. It is, in fact, hereditary, which means that only 70 to 80% are susceptible to it. It also doesn't affect kittens who have not reached sexual maturity. If your kitty seems uninterested in catnip, other plants might affect them the same way; in some cases, even stronger. Look out for Valerian Root, Silver Vine, Indian Nettle, Cat Thyme, and Tartarian Honeysuckle. Like catnip, these plants can be grown in your garden so you can easily pick a few every day for your cat's entertainment. So next time your cat is too busy sleeping or staring out the window to pay attention to you, grab a handful of these pheromone simulating plants and watch them cuddle up to you with loving meows and purrs.