Why Are Cats Obsessed With Catnip?

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Sure, it might look like any old — ahem — dried up herb that you might associate with Woodstock, but does that mean it gives cats the same feeling of happiness or mellowing out that that unnamed Woodstock herb gives people?

As a matter of fact, yes it does.

What is catnip?

In scientific terms, catnip is a perennial herb from the mint family labiatae.

But let’s call it what it is — catnip is like cat weed, and cats everywhere are totally digging it, man.

Why do cats love it?

According to Dr. Stephanie Austin, a veterinarian at Bond Vet in New York City, “The leaves and stems of the catnip plant contain an oil called ‘nepetalactone.’”

“When cats smell nepetalactone, it stimulates special receptors that sense chemicals called pheromones,” Dr. Austin said.

The result is a kind of chemical reaction that gives the cat a sense of euphoria or overwhelming happiness — although it can give different cats different reactions, just like how marijuana affects people differently.

The other most common reactions to catnip are:

  • Rolling
  • Licking
  • Rubbing
  • Zoning out
  • Mellowness

While they do make catnip sprays, cats don’t tend to take to them as much as they take to catnip-stuffed toys (like this one from Etsy for $13.95+), or loose dried catnip that you can sprinkle on toys, cat beds or scratching posts.

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