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Feline Friday: Got Herb? Kitty Catnip Delights

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Honest, I didn't inhale...well maybe a little..."

I have no doubt that catnip prompted the Cheshire Cat’s grin. My cat Seren wears the same expression when she indulges. But why do cats find this nondescript herb so attractive? Is it a kitty aphrodisiac, a harmless pleasure or something more sinister?

Nepeta cataria, or catnip, is a strong-scented mint that contains a volatile oil that’s easily released into the air. Biting or rolling on the plant crushes the leaves and releases the oil so cats can get a good sniff. It doesn’t take much. Cats can detect catnip oil in the air at saturations as low as one part per billion. Seren-kitty (in the picture above) can ferret out fresh herb through several layers of shopping bags. I never knew she liked the stuff until some really potent catnip came home with me from the Cat Writers Conference and she went wild.

Do your cats react to catnip? What about other substances? I’ve known some cats that show the same reaction to honeysuckle slices–pieces of the wood–or to other mints, and even a few who rolled and yowled for olives! Here’s more about how catnip works like LSD detailed in my latest Paw Nation article about catnip. And here’s a repeat of an Ask Amy that fits right in with the them.

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