"Catnip." By David Barry. Chemical & Engineering News, 83 (31): 39. The key chemical responsible for the herb's frisk-inducing effects on felines is nepetalactone.
"Nepetalactone is one of several related compounds known to initiate the classic catnip response sequence: sniffing, licking, and chewing, followed by head shaking, body and head rubbing, and then repeated head-over-heels rolling. Similarly active compounds are actinidine, iridomyrmecin, and matatabilactone.
Until they are around three months old, cats are indifferent to catnip. And many cats never develop catnip sensitivity. The sensitivity is inherited: A kitten with only one catnip-sensitive parent has a one-in-two chance of inheriting the catnip sensitivity, and a kitten whose parents both exhibit sensitivity has a three-in-four chance. McDaniel [Carolyn M. McDaniel, a veterinarian at the Feline Health Center at Cornell University] says there is no correlation between catnip sensitivity and sex, color, or breed."
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