Why do some cats ignore catnip?

Our question this week was:

Dr. Debra – I have 5 cats and 3 love catnip – actually go CRAZY and the other 2 sort of ignore it. Why is that?

Bonnie K. – West Virginia


Hi – thanks for your email Bonnie. You wrote that a couple of your cats ignore the catnip and you wonder why?

Catnip is interesting – for all of our scientific know-how, we still have not uncovered the secret of why cats are attracted to catnip.

First, what is catnip? According to a dictionary definition, “catnip is a strong-scented mint (Nepeta cataria) that has whorls of small, pale flowers in terminal spikes and contains a substance attractive to cats.”

Though still a mystery, the substance in catnip that attracts cats has been isolated. It’s a volatile turpenoid, and has a specific chemical name: nepetalactone. The behavior that allows cats to be attracted to catnip is inherited as an autosomal dominant gene. It has been found that approximately 10-30 % of domestic cats may be unresponsive to active chemical nepetalactone.

Reports estimate that 30 to 70 % of cats are actually attracted to catnip. Kittens do not respond to catnip until about 6 to 8 weeks and most develop the response by 12 weeks.

But when it works, it really works, appearing to drive cats wild with excitement.

Thanks for your question,

Dr. Debra

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