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Pretty much every cat I have ever owned has always liked catnip; so much so that they go nuts whenever I give them a catnip-related toy to play with. Why do some cats love it so much? What's in that stuff?

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Interestingly enough, feline response to catnip is genetic in origin and not all cats respond to it. For example, cats in Australia generally don't respond.

At any rate, the active compound in catnip is nepetalacton which acts as a mood elevator in many cats and can make them happy. However, cat response to this being variable means that some can become overly aggressive. Alternatives, with similar chemical compounds that can cause like reactions include honeysuckle and valerian.

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    Interesting that Australian cats typically aren't into catnip - I grew up in Australia before moving to the USA, and until I moved I'd never encountered a cat who liked catnip. – Kate Paulk Jan 20 '14 at 13:11
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    Response to catnip is rare in cats originating from Asian region. 50% - 60% of cats originating from areas where catnip is indigenous have the gene enabling them to detect nepetalactone, the active ingredient in catnip. Breeds whose ancestors originated from areas where catnip is not indigenous typically lack the required gene and won't react to catnip. The latter group includes most randombred cats in Australia. (cont..) – Esa Paulasto Jan 28 '14 at 1:59
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    The catnip response includes face-rubbing, drooling and temporary euphoria due to stimulating pheromone receptors. The effect lasts around 10 minutes and it is normally about 2 hours before the cat becomes receptive to nepetalactone again. (quoted directly from source) – Esa Paulasto Jan 28 '14 at 2:00

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