In doing a little looking around, I found three different answers to the question: What percent of cats are susceptible to catnip?

Each source carefully notes the figure as an estimate. None of them cite any sources or give any explanation beyond the figures coming from "experts." (You'd think someone would take a poll, but that's not my point)

I recall hearing many years ago that the gene for catnip sensitivity followed a simple dominant-recessive pattern. Similar to Mendel's peas, in a well-mixed population, you'll have the pairs RR, Rr, rR, and rr - only 25% (the rr group) will not express the trait, the other 75% will. That would lend support to Scientific American's numbers.

However, if the genes that cause catnip sensitivity exhibit some form of co-dominance, like human blood groups, then the percentages can skew.

So my question comes down to: What hard-science exists to explain the variation in sensitivity to catnip among cats? Have there been any long-term breeding experiments? Has that portion of the feline genome been explored at all?

  • Irrelevant to my question but I still have to say it: I've had three cats in my life. The first was completely susceptible. The second was completely immune. The latest is already such a bouncy rambunctious hell-on-wheels without catnip that I don't dare give him any.
    – cobaltduck
    Dec 29 '15 at 21:06
  • Definitely an excellent question. I've never read anything different than the estimated percentages you sited. Although I can only base it on experience, I think there is even more at work than genetics. In my experience, inside cats are more likely to be susceptible to catnip than outside cats. Dec 31 '15 at 1:50

You misunderstand how the percentages are applied in Mendellian genetics. Those expected percentages only work given known sets of genes in individuals. In real life, genes are often distributed very unevenly in a population, due to the pressures of natural selection, and the effect of isolation. An easily observable example is the gene for polydactylism (extra fingers) is dominant in humans. If the gene were evenly distributed in the human population, polydactyly would be common. Obviously this is not true, because the gene did not end up getting spread much beyond some isolated populations.

According to this document that is observing the results in breeding individual cats with known phenotypes, the catnip gene appears to be autosomally (not sex linked) dominant.

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