Q. Just what is it about catnip that gets cats high? And why do they go from being so intrigued by catnip to bored by it so quickly?
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Dear Mr. Easterbrook,
A. Not just pets but also lions and tigers and other big cats are very susceptible to a volatile oil in catnip called nepetalactone. When the odor hits the nose and the nose alerts the brain, they exhibit behaviors common to females in heat (kittens don’t react to it until they reach sexual maturity around the age of 6 months). These behaviors include rubbing their heads and bodies on the herb, rolling around, vocalizing, salivating, and generally acting hyper. The response lasts about 10 minutes, give or take, after which the cat becomes temporarily immune to catnip’s effects for about a half hour. That’s why they go so quickly from being all hopped up on it to oblivious to it.
Fortunately, catnip is completely nonaddictive and completely harmless. If your pet likes it — an estimated 25 to 50 percent doesn’t have the reaction — you can give it without worrying.