I just finished reading an interesting article from The Scientist on what makes catnip so addicting to our feline friends. In our house, we refer to it as “kitty pot” because our cat just can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. One sniff and he is rubbing all over the plant and then does a few laps around the house. This is impressive because outside of a catnip “high”, he can usually be found doing only one of two things: sleeping or eating…often sleeping with his head in the food bowl just in case dinner magically makes an appearance, again.
It turns out that catnip is a member of the mint family. You can blame the essential oil called nepetalactone for its mind-altering effects in cats. The chemical is similar to feline pheromones and binds to receptors within the animal’s nose where it stimulates sensory neurons that send signals to the brain. What I found even more interesting about the article was that nepetalactone may work as an insect repellent and apparently also repels rats and mice.
Jeff Akst, The Scientist