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Catnip and cats: Why your kitty goes crazy for it

Catnip and cats
(Image credit: Getty)

Catnip and cats – now, there’s a combination that goes together well. If you’ve given your cat access to some, then you will know full well how crazy they go for it. If you haven’t, then what are you waiting for, buy some of the best catnip toys today!

Although you’ll likely be aware of how much your cats like it, you might not be so sure exactly why this is the case. This may all be about to change, as a team of international researchers have recently unveiled their findings after a five-year investigation that tells us not only how catnip works, but also any additional benefits that it may have for cats.

The researcher, from Iwate University in Japan, found that nepetalactone – the main component of catnip and silver vine – was responsible for activating the brain’s opioid reward system (in a similar manner to what heroin and morphine achieve in humans).

If the last sentence worries you, then we’d say don’t let it – catnip isn’t dangerous. This is because it works to increase the flow of endorphins that are already being produced by the body, whereas substances like opium trigger the brain directly.

Using a mixture of lab and feral cats, the findings found that when introduced to paper soaked in nepetalactone, the cats spent far more time with it than the normal paper.

After this, they were tested with the 12 known compounds of silver vine, which confirmed that nepetalactone was the addictive component.

But that’s not all. They also found that while feeling the effects of catnip, mosquitoes for the most part avoided them. So confident were they in the findings that according to Al Jazeera, Masao Miyazaki, the senior author of the paper, has subsequently already applied for a patent to develop a new type of mosquito repellent.

So there you have it – fun for your cats, and could ward off nasty, biting mosquitoes. Isn’t science great?

Steve Wright

Steve has combined editing and writing for publications like SciFiNow, How It Works and All About History with being a doormat to various cats and dogs. He lodges with two moggies called Giles and Willow, and will be told off if he doesn't mention his girlfriend's magnificent pooch, Toby.