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Behav Neural Biol. 1985 Jul;44(1):38-46.

Analysis of the catnip reaction: mediation by olfactory system, not vomeronasal organ.


Pet owners and behavioral scientists alike are fascinated by unique behavioral reactions that cats show in the presence of catnip. These experiments explored the possibility that the catnip reaction might be triggered by chemosensory stimulation of the vomeronasal organ. In the chewing and mouthing of the catnip source, substances might be dissolved in saliva and transported to the vomeronasal organ. The rolling and rubbing during a catnip reaction might be a sexual response activated by the accessory olfactory system since the system projects to parts of the brain involved in mediation of sexual behavior. However, removal of the vomeronasal organ did not attenuate any of the behavioral reactions to catnip. Olfactory bulbectomy immediately eliminated catnip responding, revealing that the chemosensory stimulus evoking the catnip reaction is undoubtedly mediated through the main olfactory system. Catnip activates behavioral elements associated with several species-specific behaviors, including sniffing and chewing as associated with oral appetitive behavior, rolling and rubbing characteristic of female sexual behavior, batting the catnip source characteristic of play behavior, and a type of kicking associated with predatory behavior. These behavioral reactions occur randomly and intermittently.

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