But what does catnip physically do to cats? When a cat gets into a catnip condition, it is not unusual for the cat to show the following symptoms: Ripped out eyes, hectic rubbing and rolling around, a brief and hilarious feeling of disorientation and strange meowing. In an animal ethics theory, other animals are denied a moral standing by denying them characteristics that are thought to be unique to humans, such as rationality, independence and awareness. And another theory of moral equality argues that there are similarities in mental abilities between humans and other animals and that moral consideration should not be limited to our species.
Phillip Mlynar spends his days writing about cats, hip-hop and craft beer, often while he is plagued by his rescue, a mackerel tabby called Mimosa. When he’s not brooding over the cat form for casters, you can find his music articles at Pitchfork, Vice, Bandcamp and Red Bull Music Academy and his beer insights at Craft Beer, Vine Pair and October. He has won several awards in the Cat Writer’s Association communication competitions, some of which are proudly displayed at his local dive bar in New York City. Twitter: twitter.com/phillip_mlynar
But I am not only interested in whether cats feel joy or pain. It is about taking responsibility for our actions towards our pets and giving them the same moral consideration as we have towards humans.
Nepeta cataria is a short-lived perennial herbaceous plant that grows 50-100 cm high and wide and flowers from late spring to autumn. In appearance, N. cataria resembles a typical member of the mint family, with brown-green foliage and the characteristic square stem of the plant family Lamiaceae The coarsely toothed leaves are triangular to elliptical. The small, double-lobed flowers of N. cataria are fragrant and either pink or white with fine light purple spots.
What does catnip do with cats?
The philosopher, Peter Singer, demands “equal consideration of interests”. Singer argues that we should not use our species as a yardstick for the value or abilities of others or their ethical consideration. Other philosophers have also argued that the fact that dogs or other animals do not have the same voice structure as humans does not mean that they should be treated with less compassion. Furthermore, humans share many characteristics – empathy, communication skills, eating habits, sociability – with other species. For example, the ability to love one’s young, the need to have food and water and to spend time with others of one’s species are not exclusively human traits. According to philosopher Julia Tanner, “it would be arbitrary to deny animals with similar abilities a similar level of moral consideration.
The plant is drought tolerant and deer resistant. It can repel certain insects, including aphids and pumpkin bugs. Catnip grows best in full sunlight and is a loosely branching, low-growing, perennial plant. Nepeta cataria was one of the many species described by Linnaeus in 1753 in his ground-breaking work Species Plantarum. In 1738 he had already described it before the beginning of Linnaean taxonomy as Nepeta floribus interrupted spiccatos pedunculate (i.e. “Nepeta with flowers in a stemmed, interrupted spike”).
The effects of catnip have a ticking clock – about five to 30 minutes, says Rotman. All this depends on the cat because according to one study, only two-thirds of adult cats are affected by catnip. “About 50 per cent of cats appear to be affected by catnip, and the behaviour that results varies greatly between individuals,” Rotman says. “[This] is an inherited sensitivity that is not immediately apparent. Instead, it will take several months before kittens are no longer affected. If you’re interested in this little herb, you can make your catnip crackers.
What does catnip do to cats?
Near catnip plants, cats routinely rub the plant. This crushes the leaves and releases more nepetalactone for them to sniff. Cats are smart creatures – it doesn’t take them long to figure out important things (such as which humans to meow to get food!), so they quickly learn that catnip plants can release the good stuff.
It can vary from cat to cat, and not all cats are affected by catnip at all – it is estimated that between 50% and 75% of domestic cats are affected. Although several cats may be good at hiding catnip from the scientists who are doing these studies, so what does catnip do with cats when they roll around in it? Have you ever wondered why your cat decides to rub its body and face against the catnip leaves instead of smelling them or swallowing them? Well, it’s because she tries to squeeze the leaves to release more of this addictive nepetalactone manna. It’s a bit like massaging kale leaves with olive oil when making a salad. And what does catnip do with cats when she sniffs it? If your cat is the cultivated variety that smells only catnip, then she will smell all kinds of catnip. You have seen the movements before: It’s when she frenetically rolls on her back as if she’s no longer in control of her physical abilities. In the vicinity, collateral damage – for example, to a toy box – can also occur.
In domestic cats, N. cataria is used as a recreational product for the pleasure of domestic cats. For consumers, products containing catnip and catnip for use in domesticated cats are available. The usual behaviour of cats is when they feel the crushed leaves or stems of catnip rub against the plant, roll on the ground, grope, lick and chew it. After eating a large part of the plant, they drool, are sleepy, anxious, jump around and purr. Some growl, meow, scratch or bite the hand is holding them the primary reaction time after exposure is generally between 5 and 15 minutes, after which olfactory fatigue usually sets in.
About one-third of cats are not affected by catnip The behaviour is hereditary. Other plants that have a catnip-like effect on cats are the root and leaves of valerian (Valeriana officinalis), the silver vine (Actinidia polygama) or matatabi, which is popular in Asia, and the wood of the Tatar honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica). Many cats that do not react to catnip react to one or more of these three alternatives.
Under stimulated domestic cats might do well to escape their watery environment. Cats are born to move (even if they sleep crazy much!). Studies show that their razor-sharp instincts need to be housed in an equally stimulating home. Failure to do so will result in aggressive, depressive, or anxious behaviour in cats – so watch out for these silent signs if your cat is depressed.
A 1962 pedigree analysis of 26 cats in a Siamese breeding colony suggested that a Mendel dominant gene caused the reaction of catnip. Still, a 2011 pedigree analysis of 210 cats in two breeding colonies (considering the measurement error by repeated testing) showed no evidence of Mendelian inheritance patterns. Still, it showed heritabilities of h2 = 0.51-0.89 for the reaction behaviour of catnip, indicating a polygenic liability threshold model.
Catnip is sold in small packages and toys as well as in highly concentrated forms such as oils and sprays. The concentrated forms differ from their availability in nature. If a cat were to encounter catnip in nature, it would be in the form of leafy greens that grow on plants, not in concentrated form. It is also worth noting that catnip does not affect kittens (catnip usually does not affect cats until at least six months old) or older cats.
Catnip has long been used in traditional medicine for a variety of ailments. The plant has been consumed and smoked as tea, juice, tincture, infusion or poultice. However, its medicinal use has fallen out of favour with the development of modern medicine Catnip can either be grown at home or in your garden or bought in pet shops, and many cat toys contain catnip to encourage cats to play and want more, basically like toys in a Happy Meal.
Scientists believe that the chemical nepetalactone is responsible for the favourable reactions of cats to catnip because it causes the same kind of reactions in cats and kittens as sex pheromones. However, the reactions can vary from kitten to kitten. Some seem to be lulled by catnip, while others become very excited and enthusiastic. Many cats like to rub or rollover catnip or any object containing it and grope or scratch it. Also, some become very erratic and playful.
So what does catnip do to cats when it ingests MANY of it? Can cats take an overdose of catnip? Not really. Catnip is natural – you can buy seeds to grow it yourself on your kitchen windowsill or in your backyard. So if your kitten decides to break into the secret catnip hiding place, all that happens is that she might end up puking a little bit. Oh, and maybe her poop will turn into rivers of diarrhoea for a minute. But after that? She’ll be back to normal in no time. Imagine the possible effects of catnip poop as little more than the feline version of a particularly messy human tomcat.