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What Is It About Catnip?

It's a mild-mannered herb, with innocuous dull grayish-green leaves and small nondescript flowers. A member of the mint family, it grows like a weed in the northern hemisphere; in some places it is considered one. But there are those who adore this little plant, who cannot get enough of the strange scents that rise from its bruised or dried leaves, who delight in the temporary, mild, and fun madness that one little whiff can bring.

Our cats love catnip. We still don't know exactly why cats love it, or why it triggers such amusing behavior in our feline friends. We can distill the essence of catnip, we know that it has to be inhaled to work, and we can determine that genetics play a heavy role in whether cats respond - indeed, some are quite immune to its effects. But though alley cats and internet stars alike delight in it, cat owners, veterinarians, and scientists don't understand why cats love it (though most are happy to indulge their cats with a taste of this harmless herb now and again).

Estimates vary, but most agree that around 70% of domestic cats are genetically predisposed to respond to catnip. Many large cat species respond as well, believe it or not - including some lions, tigers, cougars, and lynx! They all behave in roughly the same manner, rolling about in it, smelling it, and eating it; and on occasion, they may space out or drool. The reaction tends to last around ten minutes, and is completely positive, harmless, and often quite funny. And as long as the cats are enjoying it, we may as well share in their fun.

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