Catnip, scientifically known as Nepeta cataria, is a herb that induces a range of behaviours in cats. The active compound in catnip is nepetalactone, which interacts with the olfactory receptors in a cat’s nose. When a cat sniffs catnip, nepetalactone binds to receptors that stimulate sensory neurons, leading to the release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. This reaction creates a temporary state of euphoria or hyperactivity, similar to a high.

Cats exposed to catnip often exhibit a variety of behaviours. These can include rolling, rubbing, pawing, and vocalizing. Some cats become more playful, chasing imaginary objects or engaging in exaggerated hunting behaviours. Others may become more relaxed and sedate, lying on their backs and purring contentedly. The effects typically last for about 10 to 15 minutes, after which the cat becomes temporarily immune to the effects for about an hour.

Interestingly, the sensitivity to catnip is hereditary, with approximately 70-80% of cats being affected by it. Kittens and older cats are generally less responsive. The reaction to catnip is harmless and non-addictive, making it a popular choice for cat owners looking to provide enrichment and entertainment for their feline companions.

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