First of all, let's talk about what catnip is. Nepeta cataria, or catnip, is a strong-scented mint that contains a volatile oil that’s easily released into the air. Biting or rolling on the plant crushes the leaves, and releases the oil so Kitty can get a good sniff. It doesn’t take much. Cats can detect catnip oil in the air at a saturation as low as one part per billion. Whoa! That's pretty amazing!
How does catnip affect your cat? Rather than a simple smell, the chemical in catnip resembles sedative components also found in the valerian plant, which may be used in natural therapies to calm pets and people. Catnip also may be similar to one of the substances found in tomcat urine—yucky to you, but a lovely smell to the cat! In fact, this pheromone in urine often triggers the same sort of behavioral reaction in cats as exposure to catnip.
These types of chemicals, once inhaled, enter the cat's highly specialized scenting organ through the roof of the mouth. The vomeronasal, or Jacobson's organs, sit between the hard palate of the mouth and the septum of the nose, and connect to the mouth via tiny conduits directly behind the cat’s upper incisor teeth. You may see kitty perform an odd facial grimace with lips curled back and mouth open when employing this organ.
The Jacobson’s organs are linked to the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that acts like a switchboard to direct information to higher centers. This part of the brain integrates taste and smell, motivates appetite, and triggers a variety of behaviors.
Cats rarely respond to catnip until they are about six months old, and some cats never do. The trait is an inherited one, with only two out of three domestic cats being affected; male cats seem to respond more strongly than females. The quality of the catnip also influences the response. With my two, Kirby reacts to it, but Sammy doesn't.
So, I'd like to emphasize the point again because if you don't...........
you might have to put up with these things!
Well! That story is for another time. Tell us about your cats and how silly they can get when they are around catnip. Would love to hear your comments.
Marion Lovato is the author of Sam, the Superkitty. Her book describes an ordinary cat changing into a superhero to protect his family from things that go bump in the night. Available on Amazon as a paperback or Kindle edition. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1604588667