Most cats are crazy about catnip. And they seem to show it in strange ways — rubbing against everything, rolling around on the floor, pawing random objects, in short – generally acting weird.
So what’s up with that? The above video, from the YouTube channel Today I Found Out, provides a nice rundown of what researchers know about catnip.
As Ramona Turner previously went on to explain for Scientific American, the essential ingredient of catnip, which is part of the very same family of plants as mint, is nepetalactone.
This chemical, which is believed to mimic a certain cat pheromone, enters a cat’s nose, stimulates sensory neurons, and leads the brain to send what is essentially known as a “sexual response.”
(That’s why catnip leads some cats to act like females in heat.)
Put quite simply, catnip triggers a chemical reaction in the brain — much like psychoactive drugs do for humans — and makes them act really weird, which can be a whole lot of fun for the cat and the owner.
Catnip doesn’t work on every single cat, only affecting as much as 80 percent of them. And catnip doesn’t last for too long — only a few minutes, maybe 15, before cats are immune to it for about 30 minutes to a few hours.
Cats can actually overdose on catnip — although, as far as we can tell, not to their death. Instead, they may just get sick and puke. Lovely, no?
Most cats, however, can tell when they’ve had more than enough and will stop before they get to the point of overdose.
Catnip also affects various animals, including, potentially, cockroaches and even mosquitoes. It even appears to be a very strong mosquito repellent.
However, since even big cats can like catnip, it’s probably not the best idea to apply catnip on yourself for a hike where mountain lions may be around.