Catnip is lots of fun, but not all cats respond to it. So are there plants that have the same effect, or even more of an effect? And do they work for cats that don’t like catnip?
Are there other plants that have the same effect as catnip? There are. Silver vine powder has a stronger effect and on more cats on average than catnip. It makes cats roll around, drool, and rub their faces against the source of the smell in the same way catnip does. Tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root powder have the same effects as catnip, but on fewer cats, i.e. around two thirds of cats respond to catnip while only half and less than half respond to tartarian honeysuckle and valerian respectively. Silver vine powder (also called cat powder) can have an effect on cats that don’t respond to catnip.
The guide below first looks at how and why catnip works. We’ll then dive into the three alternatives described above and look at how they work, how effectively they work, whether you can grow them at home, and where you can buy them. The guide concludes with a brief look at whether catnip and its alternatives are safe for your pet.
Are There Alternatives to Catnip?
If your cat responds well to catnip, fantastic. There are no adverse effects associated with its use, it makes cats happy, and it’s a lot of fun to watch your cat rolling around like it’s gone loopy. But there are lots of cats that have no reaction to catnip at all. A cursory sniff, maybe, but no cheek rubbing, no drooling, no playful mood—nothing.
If that’s your cat, don’t despair. There are alternatives to catnip that have the same effect which can ‘work’ on cats that don’t react to catnip. One of these is even stronger than catnip, eliciting reactions from a greater proportion of cats, and stronger reactions overall!
How Does Catnip Work?
To understand how and why there might be other plants that have the same effect as catnip, we have to understand how they might work. Fortunately, because the effect catnip has on cats is so interesting, it has been studied in depth. A summary in Scientific American states:
So, how does catnip work? Nepetalactone, one of catnip’s volatile oils, enters the cat’s nasal tissue, where it is believed to bind to protein receptors that stimulate sensory neurons. These cells, in turn, provoke a response in neurons in the olfactory bulb, which project to several brain regions including the amygdala (two neuronal clusters in the midbrain that mediate emotional responses to stimuli) and the hypothalamus, the brain’s “master gland” that plays a role in regulating everything from hunger to emotions.
The amygdala integrates the information flow from the olfactory bulb cells and projects to areas governing behavior responses. The hypothalamus regulates neuroendocrine responses through the pituitary gland, creating a “sexual response.” That is, the cat essentially reacts to an artificial cat pheromone.
There are a few things to take from this. One is that, yes, when you let your cat play with catnip you’re unwittingly… Making it feel… A certain way! But what you can also take from this is that if there are other plants that contain the same volatile oils, they would work in the same way.
Are There Other Plants That Work Like Catnip?
And, indeed, this is what we find. There are several well known plants that do have the same effect as catnip. While we know lots about catnip, we know far less about other plants and their effects on cats. That’s despite the fact that people have known for years that not every cat responds to catnip in the same way.
Fortunately, scientists recognize this highly important issue and have put some work into finding catnip alternatives. One paper in the BMC Medical Journal addresses the point directly, comparing three candidate plants against catnip to see how their effects compare. Let’s take a look at what these plants are, why they have the same effect as catnip, and whether they’re safe for your cat to use!
Silver Vine (Actinidia polygama)
Silver vine is a plant that’s native to mountainous regions in China and Japan. It can grow to an incredibly 20ft tall at maturity, tolerates temperatures well below freezing, and has five inch silver and white flowers. All in all, it’s an amazing plant!
It’s also known as the ‘cat plant’ or ‘cat powder’, which should give you a clue as to whether it’s effective or not. The silver vine equivalent of catnip is made from its dried fruit galls. ‘Cat powder’ is by far the most popular cat treat in Asia, and people say that if anything, it has a stronger effect than catnip. It’s also known to have an effect on cats that don’t respond to catnip. It has the exact same effects as catnip does, eliciting behaviors like head rubbing, drooling, rolling and licking. It’s the exact same as catnip in that its effects last for anywhere between five minutes and half an hour, but is ineffective and unappealing to the cat for around an hour afterwards.
How Strong Is Silver Vine for Cats?
This is backed up by scientific study, too—not just owners thinking their plant is ‘better’. The BMC Medical Journal state that silver vine’s strong effect stems from it not just containing nepetalactone—the same volatile oil found in catnip—but half a dozen more chemical compounds very similar to it, which all have similar effects. This means that a) cat powder contains more of the oil overall, and b) more than just one version in case one isn’t effective. The authors behind the study think that’s why 72% of cats responded with an intense reaction and 7% with a mild reaction. For comparison, 51% of cats responded to catnip with an intense reaction and 16% with a mild reaction. In other words, more cats responded to silver vine than to catnip, and more of those reacted intensely.
Can You Grow Silver Vine at Home?
If you’re interested, it’s possible both to buy silver vine online or grow it yourself at home. While it won’t reach its full twenty feet unless you plant it in the right environment, you could still grow some in pots indoors.
Unfortunately your cat won’t react equally strongly to, say, the leaves as to the dried fruit galls. The authors of the BMC paper checked how much cats responded to various parts of the plant. They found that none of the cats reacted to dried or fresh leaves, or the dried and powdered normal fruit. One out of eight cats responded to silver vine wood chips. You’ll therefore need the plant to create fruit galls, which are like regular fruits, but which have been infested and deformed by burrowing insects (yes, that specific). You’re therefore better off buying ‘cat powder’ online unless you’re an expert green thumb and you really know what you’re doing.
Where to Buy Silver Vine for Cats Online
There are a few brands of powdered silver vine available online. Probably the best is Meowy Jane’s Silver Vine for Cats. It comes in a little tin like a lip balm with 45 grams-worth of dried brown powder inside, which is more than enough for your cat. It’s all-natural and is hand processed and packed. What matters most are always the reviews, and the reviews for this are good. There are a few ‘one star’ reviews, but that’s to be expected with a product like this—not all cats react to silver vine, catnip and similar products. Bear that in mind if you plan on buying it.
Tatarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)
Tatarian honeysuckle is originally from Siberia, but today it’s an invasive species that has spread around the world. It was first introduced to North America as an ornamental plant in the eighteenth century… Back before people understood how bad invasive plants and animals could be for a habitat! You might find it in open woodlands or old fields. It spreads quickly when birds eat its fruits. It grows as a small bush with small pink flowers.
How Strong Is Tatarian Honeysuckle for Cats?
Valerian has roughly similar effects to catnip. Again it makes cats drool, roll around, rub their chins and faces against the source of the smell, and generally get playful. But there’s one crucial difference: valerian will make your cat sleepy after its initial euphoria wears off. It’s this same effect that people take valerian root for, i.e. it’s supposed to help you sleep. Around 50% of cats experienced an initial euphoric effect when interacting with valerian, which makes it less broadly effective as silver vine, but on par with catnip.
The basis for this effect is, again, nepetalactone. While silver vine contains nepetalactone plus several other very similar compounds, tatarian honeysuckle contains nepetalactone and only one other similar volatile oil.
Can You Grow Tatarian Honeysuckle at Home?
You can, but it’s probably not a good idea to do so. Like silver vine, tatarian honeysuckle (and, really, any kind of honeysuckle) can grow to a large size and quickly. It’s certainly not recommended to grow outside because it will take over your yard unless you’re careful. You can grow it indoors if you like, but again, it will grow to an unmanageable size unless you keep it trimmed.
Where to Buy Tatarian Honeysuckle Online
It is possible to find tatarian honeysuckle for cats online, but you don’t have as much choice as with the other alternatives on this list. It’s not as well known as a cat stimulant so it’s not as popular. Space Kitty Express offer a mixed bag of powder and small chips, and while it doesn’t have many reviews, the reviews it does have are good. As always, remember that a catnip or catnip-like product may not have an effect on your cat regardless of good reviews.
One drawback of tatarian honeysuckle is that you need more of it to induce the same effects. In the BMC study, scientists used the same volume of catnip, tatarian honeysuckle and silver vine powder. But the volume of tatarian honeysuckle weighed more (15g) than the catnip (5g). You may therefore have to use more of this stuff in terms of weight than you would of alternatives.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Valerian is a perennial flowering plant found in Europe and Asia. It thrives in the summer when it reaches 5ft in height.
While it’s an unremarkable plant, valerian has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years. Its first known use was by the ancient Greeks: Hippocrates described its sleep-inducing properties, and Galen (the most famous doctor and medical writer of the period, and whose writings were used for more than a thousand years after his death) wrote about it and regularly prescribed it.
But, of course, you aren’t here for a crash course in herbology. What does it do to cats, and why?
How Strong Is Valerian for Cats?
The authors of the BMC state that while catnip has been extensively studied, and silver vine less so, valerian hasn’t been studied for its effect on cats at all. The only resources they could find to draw on were anecdotal, i.e. stories of owners finding things out for themselves.
While valerian did have an effect on some cats, it was the least effective overall in the study. 38 cats in the study had a major euphoric reaction, and seven had a mild reaction—so it clearly does something. But a whopping 51 cats had no reaction to valerian at all. That’s a major contrast to the figure of 72% of cats having a strong reaction to silver vine. The reason for this reaction could be that valerian contains less of the relevant volatile compounds than the alternatives, or that it doesn’t give off these volatile compounds as easily. Whatever the case, you’re less likely to see a strong reaction to valerian in your cat than to silver vine or catnip.
Can You Grow Valerian at Home?
According to GardeningKnowHow.com, growing valerian at home is easy. They say that the seeds can be sown directly in the ground after all chance of frost has passed, or they can be started indoors several weeks earlier and then transplanted outside. And when it starts to grow, valerian is apparently quite hardy. You harvest the roots in the fall by watering the plant and digging it up. Wash the soil from the roots and dry them in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit with the door open a crack.
Where to Buy Valerian Toys for Cats Online
Meowy Jane’s offer valerian powder for cats alongside their silver vine product linked above. Unfortunately, it only has a handful of reviews, although the majority of these are positive. Besides that, valerian powder has the same drawback as tartarian honeysuckle. The same volume of valerian weighs more than the equivalent volume of catnip. You might therefore have to use more to get a reaction from your cat.
Are There Alternatives for Cats That Don’t Like Catnip?
Besides valerian, tatarian honeysuckle and silver vine, the BMC study authors also wanted to look at a plant called the Indian nettle (Acalypha indica), known in Malay as the ‘pokok kucing galak’, or ‘excited cat tree’. This plant grows throughout the tropics in places like Indonesia and Malaysia. Its fresh roots supposedly have an even stronger effect than catnip, which would rank it alongside silver vine. Unfortunately, the authors couldn’t source any before they performed their experiment, so they couldn’t assess its strength.
What’s fascinating is that while they work in the same way, some of these plants affect cats that are entirely unaffected by catnip. Here’s an interesting Venn diagram and graph from the BMC journal article:
This venn diagram shows several things all at once. For one thing, what’s most likely is for a cat to respond to all of these four plants rather than just one or two of them. But there are instances where cats would respond to one of the plants but not others, so for example two responded to honeysuckle alone, five responded to catnip alone, and thirteen responded to silver vine alone. This means that thirteen out of the 100 cats showed no interest in catnip, honeysuckle or valerian root, but responded to silver vine.
Are These Plants Safe to Use?
None of the cats in this study experienced any side effects. This is a common theme when it comes to the use of catnip and similar substances: while they producean instant euphoric reaction, it wears off quickly, and has no medium or long term effects. That holds true even after repeated exposure.
It must be said that while catnip has been widely used and widely studied, these alternatives have not. It’s therefore possible that they have long term effects that catnip doesn’t have—although since they work in the same way, that’s unlikely. You should talk to your vet before you use them just to be on the safe side, and report any instances of poor health or unusual side effects as soon as you notice them.