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Catnip: Why are cats mad about it?

author Lucy Byrne | Health and diet

Catnip is nicknamed cat drug or cat cocaine and it has every right to be called so. When some cats come into contact with it, they roll on floor, salivate uncontrollably, basically look like drugged.

Catnip produces chemicals cat strongly react to. A substance causing cat intoxication is called nepetalactone which is a type of a chemical substance called terpene. This little molecule stands behind a whole series of events.

In other plants, terpenes are formed with one enzyme but in catnip, two enzymes created in a two-level process create them. The two-level process have never been observed earlier and scientist assume that something similar is present in the synthesis of anticancer drugs obtained from a tropical plant called Madagascar Periwinkle. Besides this finding, the study also identified three new enzymes with unusual activity.

Only about a half of cats react to catnip and the predisposition for that is hereditary. Another curiosity is the fact that kittens are immune to the drug-like effect of catnip to the age of approximately 8 weeks. The individuals that are sensitive to this plant seek it, shred it, eat it and roll around in it. You can notice a change of their behaviour – they can shake or turn their head, roll around on floor, sneeze, spin around and meow, lick themselves or salivate. The effect of nepetalactone lasts for approximately 10 minutes, then its influence on the cat dampens until it completely subsides.

Also valerine has similar effect on cats as catnip. If your cat doesn’t mind catnip, you can also try that or silver vine. What works for your cat? Mine is attracted to both catnip and silver vine, I haven’t tried valerine yet.