Species-characteristic responses to catnip by undomesticated felids


Thirty-three large felids belonging to six different species were exposed to catnip and catnip extract. The species-characteristic response to catnip and the sensitivity of the response to various concentrations of catnip were examined. Putative relationships between catnip sensitivity, species range, age, estrous cycle, and behavioral complexity are discussed. The behavioral response to catnip shown by the domestic cat is seen in several different large felids. Lions and jaguars were extremely sensitive to catnip compared to tigers, cougars, and bobcats, who gave little or no response. Both males and females of the same species tested alike. Reproductive-age adults were more sensitive than either aged or immature animals. It was quantitatively demonstrated that catnip responsiveness is not limited to the domestic cat, that it is not limited to the female, and that it varies dramatically between species and age of felids.

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Study was supported in part by an NSF Faculty Research fund award to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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Hill, J.O., Pavlik, E.J., Smith, G.L. et al. Species-characteristic responses to catnip by undomesticated felids. J Chem Ecol 2, 239–253 (1976). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00987747

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Key words

  • catnip
  • olfaction
  • behavior
  • threshold response
  • felines
  • sensitivity