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What effect does catnip have on cats? © Getty Images

What effect does catnip have on cats?

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Cats seem to go crazy for catnip, but not all of them are invited to the party.

Asked by: Rachel Coss, Littlehampton

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The active ingredient in catnip is nepetalactone. This is a volatile oil, which binds to the sensory receptors in a cat’s nose that are normally used to detect sexual pheromones. This creates a ‘high’ that lasts for about 10 minutes and is perfectly non-addictive and harmless to the cat. But about a quarter of cats lack the gene that allows them to enjoy catnip, and kittens under eight weeks seem to be actively repelled by it.


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Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

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