While the modern family dog is pretty different from its wolf ancestors, in my personal experience, it seems that house cats never really lost the predatory mindset of their much larger cousins like lions, leopards, and tigers. It’s easy to know what a dog is thinking, but cats seem to be just unpredictable..
Honestly, sometimes dogs are like a little kid who’s so happy to be in your company, while cats just tolerate your presence since we give them food and shelter.
It also seems that cats are so much more serious than dogs. Kittens might be goofy at times, but adult cats tend to just do their own thing. The only exception seems to be the “seriousness” is when catnip is introduced. Then, all bets are off as the kitty or cat in question goes into a blissed-out state of euphoric frenzy.
It’s still not 100% known why cats enjoy the nip so much, but we do know that it produces a substance called nepetalactone. This volatile oil enters the cat’s nasal passages and binds to receptors which stimulate sensory neurons. The result is a cat that is way more playful and oftentimes can’t seem to get enough snuggling. The plant itself is a harmless member of the mint family, and was even used by humans several hundreds of years ago for its alleged mild sedative properties.
Although catnip doesn’t get humans “high” the way it does cats, size difference is not the issue here. In this video clip, we see how even big cats like lions, tigers, and leopards are all similarly intoxicated by catnip.
The reason it doesn’t affect humans in the same way is because our olfactory systems and overall neural chemistry is wired much differently, so the nepetalactone doesn’t affect the same pathways as it does with our cats, and our much weaker sense of smell further diminishes any effects it would have on animals.