Why Are Cats Particularly Sensitive To Catnip?

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Why Are Cats Particularly Sensitive To Catnip?

Postby Girl-With-A-Math-Fetish » Tue Dec 30, 2014 4:59 am UTC

I mean, I know what chemical (nepetacatalone) causes them to get high off of it. What I'm wondering is why CATS are very sensitive to catnip, and not, say, dogs and hamsters and humans and such. I know that humans used to actually smoke catnip and in large doses, it induces a hallucinogenic effect in humans, but you never really see a dog--even one the size of a cat--really react to catnip as much. Only 50% of cats are sensitive to catnip, as the reaction is genetic. Where in evolutionary history would have cats developed a particular affinity for catnip, and why?

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Re: Why Are Cats Particularly Sensitive To Catnip?

Postby Deva » Tue Dec 30, 2014 6:13 am UTC

Source1 wrote:The most intense catnip experience is an olfactory one—your cat smells the herb and promptly goes nuts. Researchers aren't sure what the neurological explanation is, but it's thought that catnip mimics feline "happy" pheromones and stimulates the receptors in the brain that respond to those pheromones. When eaten, however, catnip seems to have the opposite effect: the cat may become very mellow.

Imitates pheromones. Question: Why do deer pheromones not affect humans? (Enjoys imagining that scenario.)

Source2 wrote:Most cats, when exposed to catnip, will go through a series of random reactions including courtship, predatory and play behaviors for 5-15 minutes. Hart said that this reaction does not seem to be a marijuana-like reaction since it does not require any blood levels of the ingredient to provoke a reaction. It is also not any kind of co-evolutionary phenomenon, since the catnip plant evolved on a different continent from cats. He said it seems to be “just an odd event.”

Source3 wrote: Interestingly, the plants that belong to the catnip family are indigenous only to the Old World, and yet, members of the feline family that respond to catnip are found in both the Old World and the New World. So, if you think about the catnip response from an evolutionary standpoint, it seems clear that some species of cats have acquired the ability to display the catnip response even though the natural source of nepetalactone was not present to influence the evolution of this behavioral response. (Yet another fun fact that adds to the overall mystique of the feline).


Discovered no evolutionary links.
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Re: Why Are Cats Particularly Sensitive To Catnip?

Postby Girl-With-A-Math-Fetish » Tue Dec 30, 2014 8:34 am UTC

Deva wrote:Discovered no evolutionary links.



Essentially, cats are just weird [citation needed] x'D
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Re: Why Are Cats Particularly Sensitive To Catnip?

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Dec 30, 2014 2:21 pm UTC

Girl-With-A-Math-Fetish wrote:
Deva wrote:Discovered no evolutionary links.



Essentially, cats are just weird [citation needed] x'D

Cats are certainly not the only creature to be affected by a biological substance that did not evolve specifically to target them.

In fact, that's kind of what most 'natural' drugs are. Marijuana was cultivated, sure, but it had psychotrophic properties not linked to coevolution with humans or such.
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Re: Why Are Cats Particularly Sensitive To Catnip?

Postby Girl-With-A-Math-Fetish » Wed Dec 31, 2014 5:41 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
Girl-With-A-Math-Fetish wrote:
Deva wrote:Discovered no evolutionary links.



Essentially, cats are just weird [citation needed] x'D

Cats are certainly not the only creature to be affected by a biological substance that did not evolve specifically to target them.

In fact, that's kind of what most 'natural' drugs are. Marijuana was cultivated, sure, but it had psychotrophic properties not linked to coevolution with humans or such.


Yes, but wouldn't marijuana affect most mammals? Sure it acts as an agonist to some neurotransmitters (or an antagonist... oh I'm going to fail AP Psych), but why does nepetacatalone only affect cats?
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Re: Why Are Cats Particularly Sensitive To Catnip?

Postby Hypnosifl » Wed Dec 31, 2014 6:08 am UTC

Girl-With-A-Math-Fetish wrote:but why does nepetacatalone only affect cats?

Probably because it's not a psychoactive drug in the sense of a molecule that crosses the blood-brain barrier and affects the function of neurotransmitters, but is instead just a scent that cats have evolved to respond to with sudden mood changes. At least that's the most popular theory as I understand it.

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Re: Why Are Cats Particularly Sensitive To Catnip?

Postby Girl-With-A-Math-Fetish » Wed Dec 31, 2014 9:27 am UTC

Hypnosifl wrote:
Girl-With-A-Math-Fetish wrote:but why does nepetacatalone only affect cats?

Probably because it's not a psychoactive drug in the sense of a molecule that crosses the blood-brain barrier and affects the function of neurotransmitters, but is instead just a scent that cats have evolved to respond to with sudden mood changes. At least that's the most popular theory as I understand it.


Ahhh I see. :3 But... why? x'D
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Re: Why Are Cats Particularly Sensitive To Catnip?

Postby Angua » Wed Dec 31, 2014 9:51 am UTC

Deva already answered that one - pheromones.

They tend to differ from species to species (especially if their function is mating) otherwise they wouldn't be that useful.

It's otherwise just a big coincidence that catnip happens to be the same as a cat pheromone. Lots of organic compounds are similar, it was bound to happen eventually.
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Re: Why Are Cats Particularly Sensitive To Catnip?

Postby Xanthir » Mon Jan 05, 2015 5:14 am UTC

It's like why lead-based paints are sweet-tasting - it's just a coincidence that our sweet-detectors mostly just look for molecules with a certain "triangular" shape that corresponds to glucose/etc, and lead oxide has a similar shape.
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