So, catnip doesn't work for every kitty. In fact, genetically-speaking, some cats lack a specific gene that creates that crazed response. So what if you really want to up your game during playtime, but your little buddy can't be bothered with the green stuff? There are actually several alternatives, some working in a similar fashion to catnip, others having a completely different mechanism of action. Today, we will discuss some of the more effective options and how you can use these herbs in your own home.
What is Silver Vine?
Silver Vine - which is also known as Actinidia polygama, matatabi, cat powder, and silvervine - is a native to the mountainous regions of Japan and China. It is a climber with a deciduous nature. It bears kiwi-like fruit and white flowers, as well as silver-white stems and leaves.
How Does Silver Vine Work?
This plant works in a similar fashion to catnip. The essential oil of Actinidine begins its journey at the cat's sensitive nasal passages, where it weaves an intricate path through sensory neurons, thus resulting in that familiar kitty euphoria. If you're interested in the finer details, have a look at this earlier article: "What is Silver Vine and Why do Cats Love It?"
How to Use Silver Vine
Silver Vine can be used exactly like catnip. The dried herb can be stuffed into or sprinkled onto toys. You can also make a decoction with hot water and spritz it onto some desirable spots. Additionally, this herb can be found in treat form, though the reviews for most treats are a mixed bag.
What is Honeysuckle?
There are something like 180 species of honeysuckle spread throughout Asia, Europe, and North America, but the only type used as a catnip alternative is Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica). This plant is native to eastern Asia, and is a dense, leggy shrub with hollow twigs and rounded or oval leaves. The flowers of this shrub are slightly tubular; come in white, flashy red, or pink; and bear protruding styles and stamens. They also have small orange-red berries that are well loved by the local fauna.
How Does Honeysuckle Work?
Like catnip, honeysuckle works by wending its way from the nose and through to the sensory neurons. Unlike catnip - which works with a cat's pheromone receptors - the compound found in honeysuckle seems to have an effect on some sexually immature kittens, though the reason for this is a little unclear.
How to Use Honeysuckle
Because the flowers and berries are considered toxic, Tatarian honeysuckle cat toys are made from the bark of the plant - usually in the form of shavings, but occasionally as solid pieces. The bark can be used in a couple of ways. For one, you can stuff the dried bark directly into toys or hide it throughout the house. The second way to use the bark is to make a decoction with it, then use it as a spray to pep up cat posts, trees, or plushy toys. Some suggest that you can give the bark directly to your cat; however, it may pose a choking hazard, so I'd stay clear of it.
What is Valerian Root?
Depending on where you reside, you may be presented with different species: In China and Japan, you will most likely encounter Valeriana angstifolia; in northern Europe and America, Valeriana officinalis; and in India, Valeriana wallichii. It is a beautiful perennial plant that boasts small pink or white flowers, compound leaves, and hollow stems. The fresh flowers are said to have a sweet smell, but I'll warn you... when dried, the scent is a little more like... well... dirty feet - though, those who like it will contend it smells more like "fresh dirt."
How Does Valerian Root Work?
Like other catnip alternatives, Valerian Root contains significant quantities of a compound called Actinidine, which may be why it has such an intoxicating effect. However, the story may not end there. Valerian also contains something called valeric acid, which some believe has a pheromone-like effect.
How to Use Valerian Root
Although this herb is safe for sniffing, you should avoid letting him eat or lick it. The dried plant can be placed in soft cat toys, slotted balls, or pretty much any other plaything that you can slip it into. Decoctions are also pretty useful when you want to attract your cat to something like a post or a tree. If you don't want that... er... footy smell to linger in your house, you can also just place a pinch of it in a plastic bottle, poke a few miniscule holes in the walls or cap, and roll it around on the floor for a while. As an interesting side note, Valerian Root is also thought to have other health benefits for cats - not to mention you - like a reduction in blood pressure, and an easing of stomach issues. Though, treating your cat with herbs is best left to the professionals, so speak with your vet before trying anything out!
Other Catnip Alternatives
Although Silver Vine, Honeysuckle, and Valerian Root are some of the best catnip alternatives, if they simply aren't cutting it, or if you just want to add a bit of variety, there are a few lesser known options that you can try out.
Lemongrass is said to have a similar effect to Silver Vine, though the results are fairly mixed and may not be as potent. If you choose to try Lemongrass, be sure to only use the fresh or dried stuff, as lemongrass essential oils can be toxic to pets.
The name of this plant is only partially accurate. That is to say, this herb is not actually a part of the thyme family, but it does seem to attract cats like nobody's business. In fact, some gardeners have found that they need to fence in their cat thyme to keep it safe from roaming - and now hilariously crazed - neighborhood felines.
If Nepetalactone and Actinidine aren't doing the trick, there is another option: L-Theanine. An amino acid found in green tea, L-Theanine works less like an attractant, and more like a mild sedative. Don't let that fool you, though. Initially, this natural chemical has a very stimulating effect, which can last around 30 minutes. After that first bit of cat craziness, you can expect your furry little friend to be calm and cool. You'll want to be cautious - keep your cat's tea decaffeinated, and don't give more than 50mg per day. Usually one teaspoon is enough. And, as always, speak with a vet prior to trying this out.
Catnip is fun... for some cats, anyway. If yours isn't all that kicked on the stuff, but you still want to add a little zing to playtime, there are plenty of catnip alternatives. It's worth trying out a few different things, as there really is no one-size-fits-all option. Also, be sure to err on the side of caution. These alternatives are healthy, natural, and have few to no side effects, but again, as every kitty is different, it's a good idea to speak with a vet who already knows your feline from the inside out to make sure that adverse reactions won't interfere with the fun.
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