The catnip crop has been sorely hindered by this summer's drought and heat, so this weekend's batch was snapped up pretty quickly by cat-lovers at the market. As I apologized for the limited supply, a young visitor asked how catnip works; what is it that makes cats act so crazy when they smell it?
Since I wasn't sure, I looked it up, and learned that
basically, catnip's fragrance mimics a feline pheromone; by indirectly affecting the amygdala and hypothalamus, it's a particularly euphoria-inducing Chanel #5 that only works on cats. About 75% of cats react to catnip after 6 months of age, but the effect only lasts about 10 minutes, and then they are "immune" to the intoxicating herb for around half an hour. Reactions between individual cats vary widely, but can include increased playfulness, purring and rolling around, chasing imaginary bugs, and drooling. This sensitivity and reactivity to the volatile oils in catnip is hereditary, and occurs in all species of cats, which has been delightfully demonstrated by Big Cat Rescue in this video: