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July 31, 2007

How does catnip work?


In the latest (August, 2007) issue of Scientific American Ramona Turner, "a longtime veterinarian who owns two Fresno, California-based animal hospitals," replies as follows.

From our small domestic companions to the largest lions, cats are exquisitely sensitive to nepetalactone [above], a compound in the stems and leaves of the catnip plant that essentially acts as an artificial feline pheromone.

Nepetalactone in the catnip enters the animal's nasal tissue, where it is believed to bind to protein receptors that stimulate sensory neurons. These cells trigger a cascade of responses that eventually reach the amygdala (two neuronal clusters in the midbrain that mediate emotional responses to stimuli) and the hypothalamus (the brain's "master gland" that plays a role in regulating everything from hunger to emotions). The amygdala integrates the information flow, and its neurons project to areas governing behavioral responses. The hypothalamus regulates neuroendocrine responses through the pituitary gland, creating a sexual response to the artificial pheromone.

When cats smell catnip, they exhibit several telltale behaviors: they may rub their heads and body on the herb or jump, roll around, vocalize and salivate. This response lasts for about 10 minutes. About 70 to 80 percent of cats demonstrate this hereditary reaction to the plant's presense but not before they are a few months old.

July 31, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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Why don't they have 'dognip'? Is there some kind of canine discrimination going on here?

Posted by: meme | Aug 17, 2008 11:10:00 PM

When does the human version come out?

Posted by: jim` | Aug 1, 2007 10:57:06 AM

So what you're saying is that I delight in proffering up biochemically active 'roofies' to my cats and watching them squim around at my feet in the throes of a sexual furor...

Great. Score one for the crazy cat lady attempting to look sane.

Posted by: FemmeFatale | Jul 31, 2007 2:26:52 PM

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