We get it, you’re a curious cat. You’ve got questions and we’ve got answers. For this series, we send your burning kitty q’s to our panel of experts who can help you get inside your cat’s high-held head.
We consulted Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. Mikel has worked professionally with cats for almost twenty years, starting in the Cat Behavior Program of the San Francisco SPCA, and more recently through her cat behavior consulting partnership, Feline Minds. She’s also co-author with Jackson Galaxy of the 2017 book “Total Cat Mojo,” and has published her research in several academic journals. She lives in Sacramento, California, with her boyfriend and their 16-year-old rescue cat Clarabelle.
Since spending more time at home with my cat, I've noticed that she spends extra time enjoying her catnip-filled toys. So, I did what any stereotypical millennial does: I recorded her losing her mind with this toy and posted it to my Instagram Story.
It was all LOLs and heart-eye emojis until one of my friends replied and said that her cat has zero reaction to catnip. I've always just assumed that every cat loves catnip (I mean, its there in the name). Is it true that not all cats react to catnip? And do the cats that enjoy it really feel 'high' from it?
— Meowy Jane
Our recreational shrubbery of choice is, of course, catnip. Catnip, Nepeta Cataria, is a member of the mint family, that cats respond in a variety of ways to. What most don't realize though is that only around 70% of cats inherit the genes that make them respond at all to the plant’s pheromone-like chemicals, so it makes sense that your friend's kitty might not get what all the fuss is about.
We'll be blunt: every cat behaves a bit differently when they come into contact with this special greenery. Some cats responses range from ecstatic rolling, face rubbing, to drooling, all similar to that of a female cat in heat. Other cats show a more playful response. Most cats who respond to catnip will try to lick and eat the plant, and often toys containing catnip are the object of chewing, kicking, or other rough play. This catnip-induced behavior usually continues for several minutes at a time, but unlike human drugs, catnip is neither addictive nor will cats experience diminished effects over time.
Scientists believe that the chemical nepetalactone contained in catnip stimulate the cat’s olfactory system, which then activates other parts of the brain related to emotions, behavior, and sexual responses. Feline behaviorist John Bradshaw writes in Cat Sense, “A cat in the throes of catnip-induced oblivion would seem vulnerable to attack, and since cats presumably don’t get any lasting benefit from the experience, evolution should have weeded out the gene responsible” long ago. But we think most cats are glad it didn’t!
[#BeginTLDR#] Only around 70% of cats inherit the gene that makes them responsive to catnip. [#SplitTLDR#] Catnip is safe for your cat—non-addictive and safe to eat. [#SplitTLDR#] To keep dried catnip potent, store in the freezer to preserve the oils in the plant.[#EndTLDR#]
Have questions for a Dear Smalls? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org