Have you ever met a cat that doesn’t go crazy over catnip? Asit turns out, half of the cats in the world don’t respond to it at all,according to the “What’s That Stuff” column in the Aug. 1 issue ofChemical & Engineering News, the weekly newsmagazine published bythe American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.
Catnipsensitivity is inherited, says Carolyn M. McDaniel, a veterinarian atthe Feline Health Center at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. A kittenwith only one catnip-sensitive parent has a one-in-two chance ofdeveloping the sensitivity; if both parents have the sensitivity, thechances rise to at least three in four, she says.
There is achemical cause for the response to catnip (Nepeta cataria), available inpet shops as a raw herb or essential oil, says McDaniel. Nepetalactoneis one of several compounds known to set off the characteristic set ofbehaviors associated with exposure to catnip. These behaviors generallystart with sniffing, licking and chewing, followed by head shaking,body and head rubbing, and then repeated head-over-heels rolling,McDaniel explains. While neurologists don’t yet have a thoroughknowledge of why catnip works in some felines, they generally agreethat a cat receives the necessary stimuli from receptors in its noseand mouth, she says.
C&EN offers one tip for cat owners:Store catnip in your freezer to preserve its potency. Nepetalactone isvolatile and will degrade over time otherwise.
The AmericanChemical Society is a nonprofit organization, chartered by the U.S.Congress, with a multidisciplinary membership of more than 158,000chemists and chemical engineers. It publishes numerous scientificjournals and databases, convenes major research conferences andprovides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry.Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.