What Happens When Big Cats Try Catnip

While the modern domesticated dog is pretty different from its wolf ancestors, in my personal experience, it seems that house cats never really lost the predatory mindset of their larger cousins like lions, leopards, and tigers. It's easy to know what a dog is thinking, but cats seem to be just as unpredictable as any other wild animal. Honestly, sometimes I think dogs are like a little kid who's so happy to be in your company, while cats just tolerate your presence since we give them food and shelter. 

It's not that I don't like cats (I may even be getting one soon), I just find the difference in their attitude to be pretty intriguing. Cats are so much more serious than dogs. Kittens might get goofy, but adult cats tend to just do their own thing. The only exception I've seen to this "seriousness" is when catnip is introduced. Then, all bets are off as the kitty in question goes into a blissed-out state of euphoric frenzy.

It's still not 100% known why cats enjoy catnip so much, but we do know that it produces a substance called nepetalactone. This volatile oil enters the cat's nasal passages and binds to receptors that stimulate sensory neurons. The result is a cat that is way more playful and can't get enough snuggling. The plant itself is a harmless member of the mint family, and was even used by humans a few hundred years ago for its alleged mild sedative properties. 

Although catnip doesn't get humans buzzed the way it does cats, size difference is not the issue here. In this video, we see how even big cats like lions, tigers, and leopards are all similarly intoxicated by catnip. The reason it doesn't affect humans in the same way is because our olfactory systems and overall neural chemistry is wired differently, so the nepetalactone doesn't affect the same pathways as it does with cats, and our much weaker sense of smell further diminishes any effects it would have on animals.

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H/T: Big Cat Rescue

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