Why Cats Love Catnip, Cardboard Boxes and You!


Recently I wrote about why veterinarians love fluids. This week I am turning the tables and writing about three things cats love: catnip, cardboard boxes and their favorite human.

Nepeta cataria looks like a weed with its toothed leaves and square stem. This cat favorite is related to mint. Neptalactone, an organic compound found in the catnip plant, attracts cats because of its smell which is apparently undetectable by humans. The olfactory or smell system of the cat brain recognizes and is stimulated by neptalactone. The catnip love reaction induced by neptalactone results in sniffing, chewing, rolling and rubbing behaviors. Some cats exhibit a predatory kicking behavior directed at catnip laced toys. Not all cats have the characteristic catnip response. Based on my experience with foster kittens, youngsters less than 8 weeks of age seem not to respond to catnip. Based on pedigree analysis, the genetic trait controlling response to catnip has been determined to be autosomal dominant trait. This means most cats are genetically programmed to respond to catnip, but not all. Finally, all catnip is not created equally and depending on the conditions where catnip is grown and the amount of neptalactone contained in the plant, cats may love it more or less. If your cat seems not to love her new catnip toy, it may simply contain a less potent catnip.

Cardboard Boxes
Put an empty cardboard box on the floor and in minutes, your cat will be in there taking a snooze. The inside of a box may make us feel claustrophobic, but to a cat, it is a little slice of heaven. A recent article in Applied Animal Behavior and Science reports on the use of “hiding boxes” in feline shelters. The cats given boxes demonstrated faster reduction and lower cat stress scores compared to cats kenneled without boxes. The cats without hiding boxes hid as best they could behind their litter box, indicating they felt safer and happier when given a place to hide. If you think your cat is darling playing it its box, check out these big cats loving their boxes.

Their Favorite Human
Cats are currently the most popular pet in the United States. And why not, they are gorgeous, entertaining and they love us. Or do they? Research has demonstrated the secure attachment that exists between dogs and their humans. When put in a stressful situation, dogs seek out their favorite human over a stranger. A recent study published in PLoS One suggests cats do not form the same type of bond with their human as dogs do. The article concludes cats are by nature more autonomous because of their solitary hunting behavior. Yet, the researchers observed attachment of cats to their human on a different level than with dogs. And isn’t that stealthy aloofness part of why we love them so much?