The Internet is full of funny videos of cats showing their reactions to a plant commonly known as “catnip”. What is catnip, does it affect all felines, is it safe for cats and should humans use it? This special feature investigates these questions and more.
Nepeta cataria, or “catnip”, is a herb belonging to the same family of plants as mint. Although it is native to parts of Europe and Asia, the plant is now common on several continents, including North America.
Because, like ordinary mint, catnip grows easily, many cat owners grow the potted plant as a treat for their feline friends.
As a member of the mint family, fresh catnip also smells like mint, although this is not the case with the dried catnip sometimes found in treats or commercial cat toys, which may smell more like dried grass.
Why is catnip such a special treat? People who share their lives with a cat will know that this plant often has a marked and sometimes very funny effect on these beloved animals – much like the effect that a mild recreational drug could have on humans.
Do all felines react to catnip? Why does this plant affect cats, exactly? Is it really similar to recreational drugs? Keep reading to find out.
In his book Poisoning: the universal drive for psychotropic substances, psychopharmacologist Ronald Siegel estimates that around “70% of domestic cats respond to catnip” and that those who have reached sexual maturity. Cats reach sexual maturity around the age of 6 months.
Cats that react to catnip will sniff the plant or any toy that contains it, and then start chewing it. After that, they can start rubbing their heads against the plant or toy, then roll or roll from side to side.
“Both [my cats] I love it and it drives them crazy, “said a reader. Medical news today. “[The female] likes to lick it, then it attacks the toy on which it is, often adopting the attack of rabbit’s feet. [The male] go sotty with it, often roll with the toy in its paws, “they said.
Although in most cases when it affects them, catnip pleasantly stimulates cats, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals considers it “toxic to cats”. They warn that some domestic felines may side effects after coming into contact with this plant. These effects may include vomiting and diarrhea, as well as sedation.
Some cats can even become aggressive when they meet the plant. Another reader related DTM that she avoid giving her cat catnip for this reason. “[My cat] just kind of gets to beat me [and] start to hit my foot, “they said.
For the many cats that respond well to catnip, notes Siegel, this may be “an example of animal dependence on pleasure behavior.” Male and female cats react to catnip in a manner reminiscent of the sexual arousal in these felines.
Because of these similarities, some researchers have suggested that the plant may once have been a natural and timely activator of reproductive behavior.
“These displays have prompted naturalists to speculate that catnip once served the evolutionary function in nature of preparing cats for sex, a natural aphrodisiac in spring. ”
He explains that the molecules that carry the scent of catnip, called terpenoids, are behind the reaction. Catnip has a specific type of terpenoid called nepetalactone. These molecules, says Siegel, can be toxic. However, they are generally harmless in the amount in which they are present in catnip.
Cats absorb nepetalactone sniffing catnip. The molecules then bind to the olfactory receptors (odors) in the nose, which send additional signals to the amygdala, which are two small clusters in the brains of mammals. These are linked both to the regulation of emotions and to certain sexual behaviors.
About 30% of domestic cats have absolutely no reaction to catnip. A DTM reader exclaimed that it “has no effect on [her cat] anything! ”
Why does catnip affect some cats but not others? The difference, says Siegel, is in the cat’s DNA. Some cats inherit the “catnip sensitive” gene, while others simply do not.
“The reason for the failure of some cats to become even less enthusiastic about catnip and the overreaction of others is genetic,” he writes.
“Cats can inherit a dominant gene that guides the reaction to catnip,” says Siegel. He adds that some studies have shown that the offspring of cats sensitive to catnip are also sensitive to this plant, and that those of cats without reaction will not react either.
On top of that, he says, some cats can avoid catnip if they have had a bad experience.
For example, notes Siegel, if a feline has sniffed or chewed on catnip and then injured itself, in the future it may turn around when it meets the plant, instead of jumping when ” access the stimulant.
While catnip can have a dramatic effect on domestic cats, does it also affect larger cats, such as lions, jaguars and tigers?
The answer is “yes” – and it appears to act, to a much lesser extent, on other feline mammals that are not actually felines.
An experiment conducted in the early 1970s in what is now Knoxville, Tennessee Zoo, revealed that lions and jaguars were “extremely sensitive” to catnip.
Some of the zoo’s tigers, cougars and lynxes have also responded to catnip, but not at all strongly. The two cheetahs there at the time showed no interest in the plant.
Other animals have shown curiosity about catnip, although to a much lesser extent than domestic cats.
Non-felines who have shown an interest in catnip include civets, which are carnivorous animals from Asia and Africa that resemble cats but belong to a different family, called Viverridae.
Although catnip is by far the best-known stimulant for cats, researchers have noted that there are many other plants that can change the mood and behavior of cats.
Siegel, for example, speaks of matatabi, or silver vine (Actinidia polygama). It is a plant native to the regions of Japan and China. In an experiment at Osaka Zoo in Japan, big cats exposed to large amounts of the active ingredient in the matatabi showed signs of intense pleasure – and dependence.
“This plant contains secondary compounds that are closely linked in their chemical structure and their behavioral activity to nepetalactones,” says Siegel.
“After a first exposure, the [large] cats became so eager to know more that they would ignore everything they did – eat, drink or even have sex – whenever the chemicals were available. ”
A Study 2017 confirmed that matatabi can be just as, if not more, effective than catnip when it comes to stimulating domestic cats.
The study authors also identified two other plants that had a similar effect: the Tatar honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) and valerian (Valeriana officinalis).
Almost 80% of the domestic cats in this study responded to matatabi and about 50% of the cats also responded to Tatar honeysuckle and valerian root.
Matatabi, the study authors also note, actually elicited a response in 75% of domestic cats who had no reaction to catnip.
“Odor enrichment using silver vine, Tatar honeysuckle or valerian root can, like catnip, be an effective way to improve the quality of life of cats”, conclude Researchers.
Although humans tend to buy or grow catnip only for the entertainment of their feline friends, some people believe that the plant can have a soothing effect on their own mind.
For example, some people like to brew catnip tea, and some have even tried to roll the plant into cigarettes and smoke it. “It makes people happy, satisfied and addicted, like marijuana”, older study Notes.
Like a extra cost, people have also used catnip to treat symptoms like cough or toothache and as a digestive aid.
Is it safe? It is still unclear. So far, there have been little research in the efficacy or safety of catnip when it comes to treating various conditions in humans.
Some specialists suggest that catnip may cause uterine contractions, they therefore recommend that pregnant women avoid this plant.
Given the scarcity of evidence regarding the safety of this plant, however, our readers might be better off keeping it for the pleasure of their cats – that is, if they are among the majority who do. appreciate.