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Kitty highs: pot luck of herb alternatives to catnip (Silvervine, Honeysuckle, Valerian)

We all know about catnip’s reputation for getting kitties “high”.  The idea that cats get “high” from catnip in the same ways that humans get high from marijuana is debatable. And some cats don’t react at all to catnip. What is known & agreed upon is that the chemicals in catnip & the alternatives are not addictive.

The science of catnip

Catnip contains a chemical compound (nepetalactone) that somewhere between 50% and 80% of cats are sensitive to. Only cats who have a particular gene will react to these compounds.

The effect of catnip depends on the variety of the catnip plant & also each individual cat body.

  • Some cats’ reaction is to get laid back & chill.
  • Some get energetic & ramped up.
  • Some get aggressive.
  • Some get sleepy.
Nuzzly muzzle

Sniffer close-up

As you like it

Different cats have different preferences for how they want catnip served.

  • Some like it fresh out of the garden; Some like it dried.
  • Some like leaves only; Some like leaves & stems.
  • Some cats chew & swallow the herb; Others rub their faces against it instead of eating it.

Alternatives to catnip

If your cats don’t react to catnip and you want to give them similar experiences, there are alternatives! (These are also not addictive.) Try offering them one of the other plants with chemical compounds that have similar effects.

Honeysuckle is the alternate herb that is most readily available in the US. However, the chemical compound in honeysuckle (nepetalactone) is the same as catnip, so cats’ reactions still depend on them having that same particular gene.

Silver vine & valerian are the options that I go to when cats don’t react to catnip. The chemical compound in these plants (actinidine) is different than the one in catnip.

It takes a bit of searching to find silver vine in the US, but it is getting easier to locate. It usually comes in powder form, but you can also get it as dried stems that look like twigs. I have never met a cat who likes to chew on the twigs although those are the products easiest to find in the US.

I store my cats’ toys & toys I plan to give to clients in a pellets made of a mix of catnip & silver vine: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XXNCNTY/.

Enriching cats’ lives using these herbs

Emma during recovery

Emma as a baby

One way to more frequently enrich the lives of cats who respond to these chemicals is to store toys in bags or containers with these herbs and rotate the toys that are in the herbs with those the cats are playing with. (I describe my routines in another post.) This way kitties get stimulation with older toys not just newly purchased toys stuffed with herbs.

Visually impaired cats often find it exciting & stimulating to have some toys that smell like each one these three things. When my Emma was alive, I stored some of her toys in a bag of catnip pellets, some in a bag of silver vine powder, & some in a bag with dried honeysuckle. It helped her locate toys as she batted them around. And after she had walked away from toys a day or two earlier, she could locate the toys later by using her nose to follow the scents.

(Note: I do not accept payment for mentions or reviews of products and services that I write about on this site.)

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