I got this quite intriguing question from Susan in New Hampshire:
I don’t have Sirius radio, but my friend Kirsten Clark in New Fairfield, CT told me about your show. I have a question about cat nutrition. My (almost) two year old cat Juno steals Kalamata olives. Not only does he steal them, he will scream and beg for them if he sees me eating them or smells them in the room. He’ll gnaw on my fingers if he knows I’ve held one. This is a normally very composed furry gentleman. Once Juno secures an olive he literally goes wild — he shakes with excitement and devours the olive in an ecstatic frenzy. I’ve never witnessed such behavior. Days after consuming an olive and with a wistful look on his face, Juno will even lick the floor where it once was. Is my kitty missing an essential nutrient in his diet? Juno receives three of the smaller-sized cans of Wellness brand wet food or portions of their larger canned Core wet food per day, supplemented with a tiny bit of Wellness dry food overnight (less than a quarter cup — and even this will take him a month to finish because he prefers wet). He has a Drinkwell brand fountain which is always on and clean, as well as fresh tap water placed in a still dish daily. We keep a steady crop of cat grass available, and he gets Wellness brand jerky treats about once a month, for fun. I’d welcome your thoughts, Tracie. Should I give him olives, or refrain? What could be driving this obsession of his?
Clearly, Juno is the MOST well provided-for kitty I have heard about in a long time (except the pointless addition of “kitty crack” which sits out overnight(s) and luckily he is way too well-fed with proper food and is way smart enough to ignore entirely.). But this olive mania got me to thinking… remembering that other listeners had asked it before. So I turned to Dear Sally, CAT CHAT’s® behavior consultant, who hadn’t ever heard of i. But being a good researcher and reporter, here’s what she came up with:
I did a Google search and the reaction is not unusual — sort of like catnip. Here’s a somewhat scientific explanation that I found:
“Both green olives (Olea europaea) and Pimentos (Capsicum annuum) contain isoprenoids that are structurally similar to the methylcyclopentane monoterpene nepetalactone, which is responsible for binding to receptors in the cat’s vomeronasal organ and consequently the mind-altering effect a cat experiences. These compounds are not unusual, although the configuration varies widely between plant species. These compounds resemble pheromones, and as such some of them function as a natural mock-pheromone pest repellents for the plant, which is likely how such high levels of these constituents within a plants’ essential oils evolved. The vomeronasal organ is what cats (and most other animals with the exception of humans, although there is a small indented area and partial nerve channel where it would be, left over from our evolution) uses to sense pheromones, and is where the nepetalactone in catnip stimulates pheromone receptors resulting in space-kitty. Summary: it is likely that either the green olives or pimentos have a chemical in their essential oil that is similar enough to the active chemical in catnip to have a similar effect on the same receptors in the part of kitty’s nose that are responsible for catnip getting her high. There appears to be no toxicity (someone mentioned diarrhea, but I would go easy on the olives, simply for the addiction factor. Pitted, of course.
I had also put the question out to JACKSON GALAXY, who is a cat behavior consultant in Los Angeles and the owner of the magical Spirit Essences. Funnily enough, he came back with the same information with les high-falutin’ words:
Believe it or not, this story is very commonplace. Reason being, both in varieties of green olives, like Kalamatas, and in pimentos, there are high levels of certain compounds that actually resemble pheromones. There’s a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo that I’m sure nobody (read me) is interested in reading, but the bottom line is that these olives have components in their essential oils that cause a reaction very similar to catnip. Yes, her cat is olive-high. And no, there is nothing “bad” in kalamatas, although they are pretty well empty in terms of the nutrition they offer her. It sounds as if she’s trying to make a connection between what she may be lacking in her diet and the olive-eating (like when animals eat dirt, for example), when in reality she’s just looking for a cheap thrill
When Sally mused, “I wonder how my cats would react?” I suggested she do a CAT CHAT® experiment and toss out a few olives out to her kitties. Ands so she did. But the experiment was a dud, as she explains: “I bought both green olives (which my hubby likes) and black (which I like) to test on our three felines. All I got as a reaction was three “What the f— ?” looks in return. And they all do like catnip. Go figure… ”