Catnip the Truth!

What are the effects of catnip?

gray cat lying with catnip between paws

There are many valid theories to explain the global appeal of cats , including our obsession with watching videos of them online. However, in terms of the pure entertainment value of felines , our fascination is likely due to their seemingly endless repertoire of bizarre behaviors.

From the ability to "trap" your cat by simply drawing a square around it, to cats that seem to panic when presented with a cucumber, our feline companions are as entertaining as they are perplexing.

When it comes to their seemingly odd reactions to things, their response to an unassuming plant from the mint family is no exception.

fresh catnip in the garden
Nepeta Cataria , or more commonly known as Catnip , is a plant native to parts of Europe and Asia, well known for its properties of attracting (and provoking) domestic cats and several other felids (not domesticated), including lions, leopards and jaguars. Reactions to catnip typically consist of sniffing, licking, biting, rubbing or rolling on the plant, shaking the head, drooling, vocalizing, and even kicking the back paws.

The kryptonite status of catnip also called catmint is due to a specific chemical compound called nepalactalone that the plant naturally releases when its leaves or stem are dry. This chemical compound binds to protein receptors in the cat's nose, which then stimulate sensory neurons, resulting in changes in brain activity.

the cat eats catnip catmint

These mood-altering effects usually last between five and fifteen minutes, although some cats react more intensely and last longer than others. Interestingly, the ability to react to dried catnip is believed to be hereditary, with one in three adult cats apparently immune to its effects.

However, other scientists argue that all cats may have the ability to react to catmint , but some are active responders and others are more passive, with differences in the intensity of reactions being influenced by their age, sex and sterilization status.

Is catnip a drug for cats?

gray cat rolling around in catnip on a table
Many adult cats are certainly very attracted to this dry catnip and actively seek it out in their environment. For these reasons, catnip is often used (in its dried form) to encourage cats to use their scratching posts - rather than the arm of our expensive new couch. It is also commonly placed in cat toys or planted in gardens as a source of enrichment for cats.

However, a recent study indicates that exposure of cats to nepalactalone leads to an increase in a peptide hormone associated with pleasure. This suggests that catnip may have some pretty potent feel-good properties for cats.

cat rolling in catnip

Interestingly, the authors also found that cats covered in nepalactalone were less likely to be bothered by mosquitoes. This provides an evolutionarily appropriate explanation for cats' innate attraction (and reaction) to this plant - covering oneself in catnip might provide a feeling of well-being, but also help keep these pesky insects at bay.

Is it dangerous to give catnip to your cat?

bengal cat sticks its tongue out sitting on table in house
Although catnip has been proven to have pleasant side effects, not everything we like – or at least what appeals to us – is good for us. The heightened excitement and altered state of consciousness that likely occurs in active people is not always welcome.

In situations where cats feel anxious, insecure, or out of control, they tend to seek out sources of security rather than stimulation. Under these circumstances, the last thing cats probably want is to go on some kind of hallucinogenic trip.

black cat sitting on the ground covered with catnip

While it might be fun for us to watch their antics while high on catnip , we have to ask ourselves if we're doing it for cats' sake or just for fun. We must also avoid disturbing or trying to pet cats under the influence of this dried herb .

If we want to give catnip to our cats , it is best to place it in a quiet place, away from their favorite areas in the house - avoid places where they usually eat and sleep - and let them decide if they want to take some, at their own pace.

Good to know: young kittens under 3 months old are not receptive to this herb. No need to offer them at this age.

Are there any alternatives to catnip?

cat sitting against the wall with grass cat on the ground

Cats have a very sensitive sense of smell . Certain scents, such as catnip, can have many effects on cats, including helping them adapt to their environment and interact socially.

You've heard of catnip, but what if your cat isn't really reacting to it? There are other solutions: plants such as silver vine , honeysuckle, and valerian have all been used to satisfy the cat's sense of smell .

Surprisingly, silver vine is the most effective of these plants, as more cats react to its scent than catnip itself. Also known as Matatabi or Japanese catnip .

Let's find out together what Matatabi is, the effect it has on cats, how it compares to catnip, and how to give silver vine to your cat.

What is Matatabi?

fresh matatabi catnip in the garden
The natural silver vine , otherwise known as Actinidia Polygama , is native to mountainous regions of China, Japan, and Russia. It is a member of the kiwifruit family (Actinidiaceae) and gets its name from the silvery white markings on its leaves.

Natural Matatabi produces white, cup-shaped flowers. While most plants are monoecious, meaning their flowers have both male and female structures, silver vine is dioecious, meaning each individual plant is either male or female. This means that you will need a male and a female for her to produce fruit.

kittens eat grass cat on the ground
This silver Matatabi vine produces orange fruits that are egg-shaped. These fruits are edible and usually appear in October and November. Silver vine fruits contain up to five times the amount of vitamin C as black currants.

In humans, dry silver vine is considered a medicinal plant that is sometimes used in alternative medicine preparations. In large quantities, its leaves have a slightly hallucinogenic effect in humans.

What does silver vine do to cats?

cat lying on home table with catnip
Domestic cats need a variety of stimuli to stay happy. Silver vine produces a euphoric effect on cats, similar to that of Catmint catnip .

The effects start immediately after coming into contact with the silver vine and last only 30 minutes. Typical cat behaviors associated with silver vine odor are sedation, hyperactivity, rolling, and licking.

two cats stick out their tongues with catnip

The use of silver vine for cats is common in some Asian countries, and the cat's reaction to this plant is known as the "matatabi dance". Matatabi literally means "to travel again" in Japanese and is also a nickname for the silver vine because it causes some cats to jiggle on the ground.

According to research conducted at Harvard University, one of the active ingredients in silver vine, nepetalactol , activates the reward and pleasure center in cats' brains. This phenomenon is comparable to the response of the opioid system to morphine in man. However, silver vine is not addictive in cats.

Researchers have also found that cats who rub this plant also benefit from a natural insect repellent.

What is the difference between catnip and matatabi catnip?

comparative matatabi with catnip
In a 2017 study, nearly 80% of cats reacted to silver vine compared to 68% of cats who reacted to catnip . About 75% of cats that did not react to catnip reacted to silver vine.

Exceptions to this rule are kittens under 8 months old and pregnant females. Cats in these groups will likely not react to Matatabi silver vine , or they will have a less pronounced reaction. The reason for this reaction is unclear.

two sitting cats stick out their tongues with grass cat

Plants such as catnip and silver vine produce allomones, which cause a reaction by smell rather than ingestion. In catnip, the active ingredient is a compound known as nepetalactone . In contrast, Silver Vine contains six active ingredients similar to nepetalactone, as well as two other active ingredients that your cat will react to: actinidin and dihydroactinidiolide.

What are the dangers of Matatabi for cats?

The powder produced from the fruit of the silver vine will produce the best effects as it is the most potent formulation. Silver vine sticks are useful in removing tartar from the cat's teeth due to the chewing action. Supervise your cat when giving silver vine sticks , as fragments and small pieces can break off and pose a choking hazard or cause an obstruction if your cat is unable to pass them.

Can Cats Eat Matatabi?

cat biting piece of matatabi wood in the garden
The short answer is yes. There are various formulations of silver vine available for feline consumption , such as sticks, fruit galls (powdered or whole), sprays, and powders made from various parts of the plant, such as leaves and fruit pieces. Matatabi .

Fruit gall, the most potent form, is the result of flies laying eggs in the fruits of the silver vine. Fly eggs and larvae cause fruit to form galls, i.e. lumps containing a higher concentration of active compounds. To make the fruit fit for consumption, it is immersed in boiling water and dried in the sun. The finished product can be given to your cat as is or ground into Matatabi powder .

Silver Vine is a wonderful addition to your cat's routine. As with any new treat or supplement, consult your veterinarian before giving silver vine to your cat to find out if it is an acceptable and safe option.


What is fresh catnip?

The term catnip is more generic, but it is used mainly in the trade to name the plants (for example young shoots of barley, wheat, oats, rye) which are given to cats to purge the stomach causing regurgitation . This is the best way for our friend to regurgitate the hair ingested during his toilet.

Although carnivorous, your cat needs plants both for their vitamins, but also because they allow them to better regulate their digestion . Indeed, by dint of cleaning themselves, our cats swallow a significant amount of hair that is stored in their stomach. Plant fibers will surround these hairballs and facilitate their regurgitation by vomiting .

Giving your pet fresh catnip will prevent them from nibbling on your houseplants, which can be toxic. So it's always good to grow catnip indoors, especially if your cat can't go outside.

What are the benefits of fresh catnip?

domestic cat on the table with head in sprouts of grass
Fresh catnip has several health benefits for your cat, including:

  • Adding fiber to their diet , which helps regulate fecal motility.
  • Relieve constipation by acting as a laxative.
  • Triggers your cat to vomit , which can help if he's eating something that's causing him digestive issues.
  • Provides vitamins, such as folic acid
  • Offers your feline a healthy alternative to potentially toxic plants.

Catnips , combined with toys, are truly a rewarding opportunity for the vast majority of cats. And especially indoor cats who may lack distractions. To offer them this type of product is not only to provide them with well-being, but also the opportunity to preserve (or regain) all their dynamism. So why deprive yourself of it!

And you, have you ever tried these magic herbs ?

cat eating fresh herbs

Also discover in another article how Apple's AirTag can save your pet.

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