Little Tart loves it all…most of the time

What is it about catnip?

Posted on: July 11, 2007

Just poured half a kilo of catnip on the floor. The cats are going nuts, rolling around while the dog looks on wistfully. (Poor Roy Roy). This made me curious about what the hell is happening when house cats become hep cats. Sure, I have pulled some rank-ass shwag off the floor and smoked it, but I have never rolled on my back huffing the hardwood and slapping my friends in the face.

According to Wikipedia:

“Approximately two thirds of cats are susceptible to the effects of catnip, as the phenomenon is hereditary. The fact that it only elicits such a response in a proportion of cats—and that it is such a dramatic response—suggests that a genetic element is involved that is enriched in domesticated breeds

When cats sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip, they will rub it on their genitals, roll over it, paw at it, chew it, lick it, leap about and purr, often salivating copiously. Some cats will also growl and meow. This reaction only lasts for a few minutes before the cat loses interest. It takes up to two hours for the cat to “reset” and then it can come back to the catnip and have the same response as before. Young kittens and older cats are less likely to have a reaction to catnip. Lions and Tigers too are sensitive to the effects of catnip.[2]

Catnip contains nepetalactone, a terpene. Nepetalactone can be extracted from catnip using steam distillation[3]. Cats detect it through their olfactory epithelium and not through their vomeronasal organ [4]. At the olfactory epithelium, the nepetalactone is hypothesized to bind to one or more G-protein coupled receptors on the surface of sensory neurons which are found in the sensory layer of the organ. Via a signal transduction pathway (probably involving a G-protein and a transient receptor potential channel) an influx of calcium ions that occurs creates an action potential along the axon of the neuron. The sensory neurons from the olfactory epithelium project to the olfactory bulb where multiple neurons (each expressing a single receptor type) synapse at special neuropil called glomeruli. Here the neurons synapse with mitral cells which, in turn, project to various brain loci, including the amygdala, where the signals are integrated into behavioural signals. There is some evidence of projections to the hypothalamus, which in turn regulates a neuroendocrine response via the pituitary gland. These hormones would mediate the “sexual response.” The chemical probably hijacks the pathway normally influenced by a cat pheromone.

It is interesting that if the cat orally consumes catnip it has the opposite effect, acting like a sedative and making it sleepy or dopey.”

I don’t know what is more interesting. The fact that only 2/3rd of cats are effected by catnip, or the fact that “Catnip” is the most carefully cited wikipedia entry I’ve seen. Best part was the attached scientific photo of a stoned cat.

Effects of Catnip

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2 Responses to "What is it about catnip?"

This must be the photo of the identical twin of my very mischievous (eeevil) cat !

He must be very squishy (a good quality in a cat)

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