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Q: One of my cats loves catnip, while my other cat has little interest in it. What exactly is catnip, and why do some cats like it more than others do?

A: The behavior you describe is not unusual. Catnip is a member of the mint family and is generally safe for cats.

The leaves of the catnip plant contain nepetalactone, a volatile oil that stimulates the pleasure centers in the feline brain. Most cats, but not all, have the gene required to recognize nepetalactone explaining why one of your cats enjoys it, while the other does not.

Catnip often has no effect on kittens; so, if your catnip insensitive cat is under eight months old, he may grow to love catnip.

Cats respond to catnip in a variety of ways.

You may have heard it called an aphrodisiac because certain cats will act as if in heat, i.e., rolling, purring, vocalizing.

I recommend catnip for a variety of uses, including enticing overweight cats to play by rubbing it on toys, training cats to use a scratching post (instead of the new couch) or simply as a treat.

Catnip can easily be found in pet stores, health food stores or you can even grow some in your own garden.

Prepared as a public service by the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society. Send questions to Pets, P.O. Box 1252, Buffalo, N.Y. 14205 or to the Web site at Sorry, personal replies cannot be provided.