13 Ecology Ablazingly

What Makes Catnip so Appealing to Cats: The Nepeta Herb

cat on catnip

While some parts of the world would like to think of their family cat(s) as unique and typical of going into a seemingly drunken high when given a little pile of catnip–some of their cats may just turn up their nose at this popular herb from the genus of plants (well over 250 in total) called Nepeta. This might almost be akin to the human alcoholic gene, but just about all experts on felines say that the passion behind catnip is strictly hereditary through a cat’s olfactory areas. All of that might help give some credence to genetic imprinting in all living species, especially for complicated humans. It also gives a bit of a mystery why catnip is so seductive to cats and becomes a useful sedative for human beings when used as an occasional medicinal herb in things like tea. Too bad, because I’m sure many of us wouldn’t mind having the same effects cats have to catnip when it’s put in our tea.

Despite that human use of the Nepeta herb–the name given to all of the species of plants is generally called catmints, which shows what its main use is. Other than that, some of the plants are considered weeds and will probably end up in a yard worker’s garbage bag if it’s not saved to prepare by you to give to your cats. Obviously, though, it’s best to buy it in the little bags in pet stores where some of the best kinds are available. Most experts will say that the highest-quality kind that will get the best reaction from your cat is from the Nepeta cataria–or otherwise known as “true catnip.” Also, Nepeta faassen is usually grouped with the cataria plant as the ones that have the most biting taste. Yet, your cat doesn’t supposedly taste it when he or she starts having its strongest reactions.

cat on cat nip

As mentioned above, there seems to be a scent attached to all catmints that perhaps mimics the scent of the mysterious pheromones that cats use to mark territory or even the scent of urine that we all know they also use for the same. But nobody really knows for sure what the quality of the scent is that cats detect in all the catmint plants…and probably never will unless we’re able to place ourselves into their minds someday. The types of scents they find pleasing aren’t the same as us, so it makes the use of the word “mint” behind the ingredients a probable misnomer.

Cat’s Reaction To Catnip

When we see the reactions of cats to catnip, we probably automatically equate it to something like alcohol, sugar (or, heaven forbid, cocaine) that gives a person an immediate feeling of well-being like nothing else. Every pet expert, though, will tell you that it pretty much works in reverse from humans getting hooked on alcohol, sugar or drugs. If given too much catnip, they actually become immune to the scent and won’t want it anymore. What a shame that doesn’t happen with humans when it comes to addictive things, though that proves to you that the life of a cat is usually a lot better than ours.

This is why giving catnip to your cat only once in a while is the best thing. However, hide it in a place where your cat can’t find it–because I’ve had experience of my family cat finding it up on top of a shelf and digging into it…giving some credence to how addictive it can be. The myth that older cats won’t like it anymore is just that–a myth…all based on my own experience. This just shows that our cats are more unique than experts say who group them all into the same gene pool.

Don’t be alarmed, though, if your cat doesn’t react at all to any versions of catnip…Breaking the myth that all cats love catnip…

The gene pool is a complicated thing in the dog and cat world–and one that would be fascinating to study when it comes to where our own cats come from in that large domesticated pool. Those who study such a thing say that most cats in the United States who are domesticated will react strongly to catnip. There may be some degrees of intensity in some over others, but genetics in cats here in America seem to go along mostly the same lines. Once in a while, though, you’ll find a rare cat who may not have received that genetic imprint for catnip to give that strong effect on their olfactory glands.

Right now, most of that problem lies in Australia where the gene pool for cats (and all domesticated animals) was more contained. Sorry to those of you who wanted to open a catnip store somewhere Down Under. Nevertheless, you’ll find some small elements of that all around the world depending on the randomness of genetics. Some people might be grateful that their cat doesn’t respond to catnip, even though most people find it a joyful (and sometimes humorous) experience seeing their beloved cat reacting with so much uninhibited bliss.

When I was really young, I used to think that cats actually liked to eat catnip, particularly when seeing them licking it up off the floor or on their body (after rolling around in it). The truth is, when they put it in their mouths–they aren’t consuming it, but just placing it in their mouths temporarily as we would if chewing gum. This apparently heightens the scent of it for them if not also a biting taste they go nuts over. Sometimes I wonder, however, after past experience of my family cat practically consuming the small pile given to him. Then again, rolling around in it probably gives the illusion of it being consumed when it’s just broken up into particles from having it go everywhere.

Many say that while it appears to be a mysterious genetic trait in domesticated cats–it may come directly from the wild and something instilled into the feline genetic line from creation. A lot of experiments in the wild have shown that some species from the cat line (namely lions and jaguars) do respond wildly to catmints. Some other experiments say tigers don’t respond. I don’t quite believe that and may have been some other reasons behind that (as in perhaps having another scent overriding the catnip scent). If tigers truly don’t respond to it–then maybe it’s because they’re too used to their carnivore ways and detect only the scent of meat.

Well, because the Nepeta plants are used by humans (however rarely) as a calming medicinal herb as I mentioned earlier–we can only hope we’ll find a healthy herb someday that makes us want to roll around in it and act giddy for a little while. Some people already do that with unhealthy sugary foods, unfortunately. But if we ever do find an herb like that–you can be sure the FDA will intervene and outlaw it.

Cats at least probably secretly thank the FDA for not interfering in their world…