Saturday, December 4, 2010

Catnip and Cats--understanding the attraction...

It's winter now and as a gardener, who hates the cold, I'm forced to find indoor ways to occupy my time.--Forcing narcissus bulbs, growing sprouts in a mason jar, and enjoying my Christmas cactus.. which always seems to bloom on Thanksgiving..

I dried some herbs from this past season and I decided to put my limited knitting skills to work and make a catnip mouse for one of the five lucky cats that our part of our family.  This has got me wondering.. Why are cats so attracted to catnip in the first place?

Catnip is a member of the mint family and according to one source, there are more than 250 varieties of this perennial herb.  Common Catnip (Nepeta cataria)it's the one my cats are obsessed with, has small white flowers and grows to about 3 feet. I also have Catmint (Nepeta mussinii) growing along the edge of my herb garden, it has smaller leaves, purple flowers and only grows to about 15 inches in height, my cats do not seem as nearly interested in this selection. 

I have two other varieties of mint in my herb garden, Pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens) 'Variegata,' and Peppermint (Mentha piperita), yet I have witnessed on more than one occasion that my cats ignore all the other scents and head straight to the catnip.  In a sort of possessed, trance-like state, they start rolling, rubbing, purring and eating this herb. They seem to be in another world--"a kitty-high."

As a nurse, it's important to understand the drugs I'm administering to my patients so perhaps I should have a little more interest/concern in what I'm exposing the cats to. It's amusing to watch their reaction, but is it safe?  After I did my feline research, it appears there isn't anything toxic or harmful about catnip. The chemical in catnip, Nepetalactone, causes the odd reaction we witness because of a special olfactory receptor the cats have for this scent. They do get a kind of elated sensation, but it's short lived and doesn't cause any permanent side effects.

So I suppose there's nothing to be concerned about and I'll just continue to enjoy the show..

The mouse turned out great and my cats appreciated their gift!--Here's a link to the pattern..

Catnip Mouse Toy

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