If your Australian cat loves catnip, it is actually in the minority (in Australia at least). This is because of the strict animal quarantine laws that have been in place in Australia since around 1872. The restrictions have led to an extremely limited gene pool. The cats that have evolved to become the furry domestic companions we know and love came from a gene pool that is not sensitive to the ingredient in catnip that drives cats wild – nepetalactone.
So, if your feline friend is fond of catnip, it means you are lucky enough to have found a cat that somehow managed to slip past those strict suitcase-scanners at border security in the last 148 years. Congratulations, and continue reading to find out more about why cats love catnip.
On average, around 75% of cats go crazy for catnip in other countries. It’s a perennial herb that grows to about 100cm tall with verdant green leaves. It grows small white or pastel pink and lilac-colored flowers in summer. Although the catnip plant is not native to Australia, it is still permitted to grow here; it belongs to the mint family of herbs.
Nepetalactone is the chemical component of catnip that triggers a neuronal response in susceptible cats. The chemical causes a form of euphoria or high. In fact, there is nothing more delightful than to watch a cat playing with its daily scattering of catnip. It prances, dances, and truly delights playing with the plant.
It is important to note that catnip and its hallucinogenic ingredients are not harmful to cats. Catnip can be sniffed, swatted or chewed with no harmful side effects. It is not addictive, nor is it harmful. Catnip fans report that sniffing the herb can stimulate cats; if they eat catnip, it has the opposite effect of making them sleepy.
Some cats can be over-stimulated by catnip. Overstimulation can manifest itself as aggression or a flight/fight response. If you have more than one cat in your home, introduce catnip to each one individually so that you can gauge their reactions one at a time.
In addition, nepetalactone has been discovered to be an effective repellent to all forms of insects. However, nepetalactone is not the wonder-ingredient insect repellent we have been waiting for because the chemical loses its bug-repelling abilities when applied to human skin.
Catnip has also been used to aid with digestion and treat tummy upset, but this can be said for the entire mint family to which catnip belongs. If your cat is growing fat from lolling in the sun all day, a few pinches of catnip can get it excited and moving around the house like an 80s aerobics video. A good workout on the scratching post can also be induced by rubbing catnip on the area.
Try growing a pot of catnip in your garden and see whether your cat loves this herb!