Does your cat go cuckoo for Catnip? If you have you know how much fun it is to watch them rolling and twisting, rubbing, batting, clawing and biting those fuzzy and aromatic leaves. But have you ever wondered why cats react the way they do to the plant? Read on to find out more about your cat’s favorite flora!
About the Plant
Catnip, Nepeta cataria, also known as Catmint, is a member of the mint family, one of about 250 species. It is native to Europe but has naturalized here in the US and in many other places. You can often find it along roadsides and in fields if you know how to recognize it, most of us would see it as nothing more than a roadside weed. The plants grow up to about 40 inches tall, with angular stems, soft, fuzzy, triangular-shaped leaves with scalloped-edges, and clusters of tiny pinkish-purple flower heads through summer. Of course, the easiest way to identify it is that characteristic smell! Your cat reacts to the potent essential oil, nepetalactone that gives catnip its distinctive aroma and has a powerful effect on the behavior of many cats.
It Only Takes a Little Whiff
Researchers aren’t sure why a cat’s brain responds as it does to this herb, but it’s thought that the oils in catnip mimic the feline “happy” pheromones. When they smell that oil it stimulates the receptors in the brain that respond to those pheromones, triggering the behaviors and physical responses you love to watch. Read More »