Most pet guardians are familiar with catnip, but did you know there is a whole range of other plants and herbs that your cat can try?
What is Catnip?
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is an aromatic herb from the mint family native to North Africa and the Mediterranean. Catnip can give your cat an energizing boost after they smell it (placed on the floor or inserted into toys) and/or eat a little bit. This herb is a perfect way to help your cat reduce stress, or give a boost of stimulation for overweight cats. It can be use to activate lazy cats, it is safe (your cat won’t become “addicted” or “overdose” on it) and the effects last around 15 minutes. To keep the catnip fresh, store it in a dark and dry place like your freezer. Only about 60% of all cats respond to catnip, and kittens younger than about 3 months of age do not respond to catnip.
How it works:
The active ingredient in catnip is nepetalactone which can be detected through your cat’s sense of smell. The nepetalactone binds to the smell receptors in the nose where it is thought that the activation of the receptors may mimic a cat’s “feel-good” pheromones. The effects you may observe in your cat are:
- Your cat may meow, rub, leap, and roll in the catnip
- Your cat might get into positions like: laying on their back with paws extended, gazing up at the ceiling
- Your cat may become very playful, or some cats may become more relaxed
- While the effect wears off, your cat may settle into a dreamy/sleepy state then back to normal.
Since around one third of cats do not respond to catnip, there are catnip alternatives you can try.
Tatarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera Tatarica)
If your cat doesn’t respond to catnip, he or she may still react to honeysuckle. In fact, it is thought that this plant can produce a greater reaction than catnip. Unlike catnip, the wood of tartarian honeysuckle has a better effect if is wet. The active ingredient is similar in structure but not the same as the nepetalactone found in catnip. While there are many species of honeysuckle, this is the only type that cats may react to.
Valerian root (Valeriana Officinalis)
Cats may react to valerian root as they do to honeysuckle or catnip, although the active ingredient is actinidine. Valerian root can be used in the same way as catnip: just sprinkle a bit for your cat to enjoy, or stuff some inside a favorite toy.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
This is a native herb from India and Sri Lanka and causes a reaction similar to catnip. Since this one is not generally available commercially, you can plant some in our garden. As a bonus, this is an attractive plant for your garden and you can even use lemongrass for cooking!
Japanese Catnip or Matatabi (Actinidia Polygama)
Also known as silvervine, Matatabi has a more powerful effect than catnip. Japanese catnip is a vine in the Kiwi fruit family; the leaves and branches are exported from Japan and China where it grows. The active ingredient of this plant is the same one found in valerian root- actinidine.
Cat Thyme (Teucrium Marum)
Cat Thyme is a small woody plant; the leaves are exported from Spain and the Western Mediterranean where it grows. It is related but is not an actual type of thyme.
Some more facts about catnip and catnip alternatives:
Fact #1: Tigers, cougars, bobcats, lions and lynx also respond to nepetalactone. Sometimes catnip is used by some zoos to stimulate the big cats.
Fact #2: Catnip and valerian root has the opposite effect in humans. Herbalists use it as sleep aid due its sedative effects and for mild stomach upset. It may reduce digestive bloating, nausea and cramping. .
Fact #3: Lemongrass is a natural insect repellent in the garden