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Pets: Owner is baffled by pet’s reaction to catnip

Q: My three cats love it when I sprinkle a little catnip on a sheet of newspaper. They all roll in it and scratch at the area of the rug where I spread it. However, my younger cat actually will shake his head and drool for a while in almost a dazed state. Then he just snaps out of it and walks away from the catnip. The drooling gets me a bit nervous. Am I doing them harm by letting them play with the catnip like this?

A: Catnip or catmint is one of only a few plants whose scent will influence a cat’s behavior. The active ingredient in the plant that does this is called nepetalactone, and not all cats respond behaviorally to it. Some cats will sniff a pile of catnip and not respond at all. Of the cats that do react to the nepetalactone, the response will vary from cat to cat. Some roll around like kittens in an innocent way, and others act disoriented and dazed as your cat does. However, the compound never actually enters the cat’s bloodstream after it tastes or sniffs the catnip, and the cat can rouse itself out of the catnip stupor any time it needs to.

I guess the best human analogy that I can relate it to is when you smell a particular scent that takes you back in time to a special event or occasion and you temporarily forget everything that is going on around you. Smelling a freshly picked basil leaf does this to me. Biologically, there is no evolutionary advantage to a cat responding to catnip, so it is just another one of the mysteries of cats.

If your cat’s response makes you feel uncomfortable, perhaps you can cut down a bit on the volume of catnip.

Cats do eat quite a lot of it when offered, and perhaps this is what is causing yours to drool.


Q: I have had my macaw now for 20 years and he spends quite a bit of time on my shoulder. However, sometimes he lets out a shriek that literally rocks the eardrum and makes me wince. Why does this noise never seem to hurt his ears at all? His ears are covered with feathers. Does that muffle the sound somewhat? My wife says that his screaming must hurt my hearing as well.

A: Birds are among the noisiest creatures on the planet, but so many others make noise, too, and if the noise that these animals made caused them to hurt their ears or hearing, then they would not have evolved to be able to make these loud sounds. I actually have never even heard of a bird being deaf. I have seen blind birds but never deaf ones. An interesting fact about birds is that damaged tissue inside their ears will spontaneously regenerate and heal. This ability is not present in mammals, so if a bird’s hearing was damaged by some sort of injury, then most likely it would heal up all on its own.

I have had to endure birds screaming in my ears for half a century now, and last month I did have my hearing tested and it was perfect. However, I cannot speak for any hearing loss you may have acquired from your noisy bird.


Q: My ferret has been shedding a lot lately and I noticed that after the fur on her tail fell off it never grew back. This is the first time it happened in the three years I have had her. I wash her once a week with a shampoo made just for ferrets, but I wonder if the shampoo could be drying out her skin and this is why the fur will not grow back. Her diet is fine: She has eaten the same brand of ferret food all her life.

A: The reason that your ferret has lost her fur is not a simple one and has nothing to do with diet or the type of shampoo that you use. There are a couple of degenerative diseases that ferrets do suffer from that can cause this, there are no home remedies, and the situation will not correct itself on its own. It is very important that you take your ferret to a vet who is experienced with them ASAP.