Exposure to Catnip, Nepeta cataria, elicits oestrous-like behaviour in 50-70% of cats and is mediated through the main olfactory system. The ‘catnip response’ consists of four behavioural elements:

  • sniffing the catnip
  • licking and/or chewing it, often holding the catnip with the forepaws in order to manipulate it in this way
  • chin- and cheek-rubbing
  • head over rolling and body rubbing

Despite being a genetically determined response, it has previously been reported that a number of factors, both environmental (e.g. sounds and routines of the habitat) and psychological (e.g. adjustment to the habitat) qualitatively influence the catnip response (Tucker & Tucker, 1988). The response may first be seen in kittens as young as 6 weeks but the response is not fully developed until 3 months of age (Todd, 1962).

Other behaviours often associated with the catnip response sequence include increased animation and play, including leaping into the air, head shaking, digging, pawing, scratching, grooming, and excessive salivation. Although none of these individual behaviours are exclusive to the catnip response, their combination in the mentioned sequence is unique to the catnip response (Hatch, 1972; Tucker & Tucker, 1988), which can last up to 15 minutes with a refractory period of about an hour.

Other plants that may elicit a similar response include Valerian, Valeriana officinalisI, Actinidia, and Olive wood.

 
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