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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  1. Do you suppose that catmint is the gateway herb for cats? Like, do they hooked on basil and then need to move onto something harder like salvia?

  2. Maybe they think it's OK to hang out in the herbs as long as they don't inhale!

  3. Hello Rebecca!
    I also am a cat fan and have two BIG girls here .. mixed Main Coon so you know they make a statement .. haha. YES ! cataria is "THE ONE" .. I had a small plant in a pot to try it out and now I regret not having much much more for the girls. They love it .. funny thing is one loved it as fresh while the other didn't and both love it dried for the more intense sensation.
    I am a bit of an herb fanatic too .. Pineapple mint is amazing, chocolate mint, peppermint .. well frankly all the mint is interesting to me .. along with must haves as different rosemary, lavender, dill, fennel .. well I think you get the idea ? ;-)
    There is a certain magic in growing herbs .. almost an empowerment I have to say .. I love the rest of my garden but herbs do a little something special don't they ?
    Your blog is gorgeous and you had perfect pictures to the cat nip story ! I have to come back to read much more : )

  4. Litter mate aggression is very different from aggression between cats whether it is a neighbors' cat or one you bring home. I love the idea of two cats to exercise and entertain themselves but cats tend to be very territorial and you must take several steps to identify aggressive behavior and perform proper steps to introduce the new Cat and Cats in the house. First let's define the types of aggressive behavior often demonstrated by cats.



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