Catnip vs Silvervine: Definitive Guide for Cat Owners - myWhiskers, LLC

Catnip vs Silvervine: Definitive Guide for Cat Owners

mywhiskers infographic quick facts comparison chart between catnip vs silvervine

Introduction

If you're a cat enthusiast, you're always looking for new ways to make your feline companion's life more enjoyable. Catnip and silvervine are two popular choices among natural stimulants. While catnip, a member of the mint family, is widely known, silvervine may be less familiar to many. This comprehensive guide explores the intriguing world of these two herbs, delving into their effects, benefits, and how cats respond to them.

 

Catnip or Silvervine for My Cat?

By understanding the differences between catnip and silvervine, you can make informed decisions about which herb best suits your pet's preferences and needs. So, let's dive into the fascinating world of catnip and silvervine, and discover why they captivate our feline friends!

 

Featured image cover photo showcasing catnip and silvervine plants, with a playful cat in the background, illustrating the theme of the article. Captioned Catnip vs Silvervine Ultimate Guide

Understanding Catnip: More Than Just a Fuzzy Herb

The Joy of Catnip

Catnip, scientifically known as Nepeta cataria , belongs to the mint family and can be found in various feline playthings, from toys to treats. This herb's popularity stems from the captivating reaction it elicits in cats, lasting from 10 to 15 minutes. When a cat catches a whiff of catnip, it often engages in behaviors like rolling, pouncing, and purring—clear signs of joyful amusement. Importantly, not all cats respond to catnip, so it is important to consider whether or not catnip is the right choice for your cat.

 

Catnip Plant Characteristics

University of Maryland Extension [1] highlights the plant's characteristics, noting its heart-shaped leaves and white flowers that draw pollinators. Catnip's popularity isn't just limited to its effects on cats; it's also valued for its use in teas and as a seasoning. University of Wisconsin–Madison's Extension Horticulture Program [2] describes catnip as a vigorous herbaceous perennial, thriving in sun or shade. This adaptability makes catnip a feasible plant for cat owners to grow at home, providing a fresh and potent source of this feline-favorite herb.

University of Kentucky's Center for Crop Diversification [3] provides insights into catnip's cultivation and marketability. Growing catnip is a relatively straightforward endeavor, making it an accessible choice for those interested in cultivating this herb for their feline companions. Beyond its allure to domestic cats, catnip also holds appeal in the herbal market due to its aromatic qualities, especially for use in teas. This dual-purpose characteristic enhances the attractiveness of catnip for both cultivators and pet owners alike.

A picture of nepeta cataria, catnip, with sunlight in the background

 

Catnip in Cat Gardens

As UW–Madison [2] suggests, "Other catmints with showier flowers and better-behaved habits (but less enticing leaves for cats), such as [catmint] or [dwarf catnip], make much better ornamentals, but [catnip] could be combined with other perennials in the border as for the other catmints as part of a 'cat-friendly yard,' or included in an herb garden. It can also be grown in containers." The affordability and resilience of the catnip plant make it a great choice for novice botanists and cat owners looking to create their own cat garden. Further down in the article, we'll cover helpful tips on growing catnip at home.

 

Catnip's Secret Ingredient

The allure of catnip for cats is rooted in its natural composition. Its remarkable effect on feline behavior is primarily attributed to nepetalactone, an essential oil found within the plant. When cats come into contact with catnip, this compound binds to their olfactory receptors, often resulting in euphoric and playful behaviors. The response is hereditary, with approximately 50% to 70% of cats showing sensitivity to the herb. This genetic predisposition helps explain why some cats may remain indifferent to catnip, while others display pronounced reactions.

 

Is Catnip The Right Choice For My Cat?

Understanding the specific needs and preferences of individual cats is key to determining whether catnip is an appropriate choice. For those cats that do respond, catnip can provide significant enrichment and pleasure. Research from institutions like UME [1] and UW–Madison [2] offers valuable guidance on understanding and maximizing the benefits of catnip for our feline companions.

However, for cats that don't react to catnip or for owners looking for an alternative, silvervine may be an ideal option, as we will explore in the next section.

 

Exploring Silvervine: The Other Feline-Happy Herb

The Best from East to West

Silvervine, scientifically known as Actinidia polygama , is a plant related to kiwi and native to the mountainous regions of Japan and China. Less common in the West, silvervine has been gaining popularity due to the even more potent effects it has on cats compared to catnip. Like catnip, silvervine is a completely natural plant, making it a safe and organic choice for enhancing your cat's playtime and stimulation.

A cat sniffing Actinidia polygama, silvervine, flowers in a garden

 

Fewer Cats Are Immune to Silvervine

While catnip works on about half to two-thirds of cats, silvervine has been reported to affect almost all felines. Studies, including those cited in BMC Veterinary Research, Volume 13, Article 70 [4], have shown that a larger percentage of the cat population, almost 80%, respond to silvervine, making it a potentially more universally effective option for cat owners. While not all cats prefer silvervine, some that are non-responsive to catnip can be quite captivated by it.

 

Silvervine is More Potent Than Catnip

The robust response to silvervine in cats can be attributed to its chemical makeup. The presence of the iridoid nepetalactol, as discussed by Whitney Lieberman in her Science in the News of Harvard University post [5], is particularly noteworthy. This compound is structurally similar to nepetalactone found in catnip but has been observed to induce a more potent behavioral response in felines. Although both silvervine and catnip can elicit euphoric responses in cats, silvervine is often known for delivering a "stronger high" that can last up to 30 minutes.

 

Silvervine is Natural and Non-Toxic

Silvervine's appeal lies not only in its efficacy but also in its safety and natural origin. As with catnip, silvervine is non-toxic and safe for feline consumption. The behavioral responses it triggers – from playful activity to periods of relaxation – make it a valuable tool for mental and physical stimulation in cats. Moreover, the diverse chemical composition of silvervine may offer additional benefits, potentially tapping into different aspects of feline behavior and well-being.

 

Silvervine Boosts Dental Health

A significant, yet often overlooked, advantage of silvervine is its contribution to dental health in cats. Chewing on silvervine sticks or toys can naturally help remove plaque and tartar build-up, promoting healthier teeth and gums. Additionally, the enticing aroma and taste of silvervine can motivate cats to engage in longer chewing sessions, thereby enhancing the dental benefits. Regular use of silvervine can be an effective and enjoyable part of maintaining your cat's oral health.

 

Is Silvervine a Better Alternative to Catnip?

In summary, silvervine emerges as a strong contender alongside catnip in the realm of natural feline stimulants. Its broader appeal to the feline population and intense reactions make it an interesting alternative or complement to catnip.

 

Health Benefits and Safety of Catnip and Silvervine

Silvervine and Catnip are Both Natural and Powerful Herbs

The use of natural herbs like catnip and silvervine in feline enrichment is not only about stimulating playful behavior. These herbs also contribute to the overall well-being of cats. Both catnip and silvervine are renowned for their safety, being non-toxic and generally well-tolerated by cats. In addition to encouraging physical activity, these herbs can aid in stress relief, making them beneficial for indoor cats who may have limited opportunities for stimulation.

Picture of a cat laying in a bed of catnip with sticks of silvervine nearby. Close up angle

 

Chemical-Free Pest Protection For Your Cat

Catnip and silvervine also serve a secondary purpose as natural insect repellents, as highlighted in research from HU [5]. This aspect can be particularly beneficial for outdoor cats, as it provides them with a degree of protection against pests such as fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. By minimizing their exposure to these common pests, outdoor cats are less likely to suffer from uncomfortable bites, potential allergies, and the transmission of diseases.

 

Silvervine and Catnip Promote Mental Well-being Naturally

In addition to their physical benefits and natural pest deterrent properties, catnip and silvervine have profound effects on a cat's mental well-being. These herbal remedies offer a range of cognitive and emotional advantages, serving as natural mood boosters for cats. By stimulating their senses, these herbs help alleviate boredom and reduce instances of destructive behavior often associated with stress and anxiety in cats. Moreover, they can promote relaxation and provide comfort during potentially stressful situations like visits to the vet or changes in the home environment.

 

Introduce Slowly and Use Moderation

UW–Madison [2] notes the importance of providing cats with safe and natural options for play and relaxation. When introducing any new element, including catnip or silvervine, to your cat's environment, it is crucial to observe their reactions and ensure they are positive and healthy. Moderation is key; while most cats enjoy these herbs, excessive exposure can lead to overstimulation or diminished effects.

 

Behavioral Responses to Catnip and Silvervine

Exciting or Calming? Depends on Your Cat

Cats exhibit a range of responses to catnip and silvervine, influenced by their genetic makeup and individual preferences. Some cats may become hyperactive, playfully chasing and rolling, while others might experience a more subdued, relaxed state. This variance in behavior underscores the importance of understanding each cat's unique reaction to these herbs.

 

Catnip or Silvervine: Which is Right for Your Cat?

In conclusion, catnip and silvervine offer distinct experiences and benefits for cats. Understanding your cat's individual response to these herbs will help determine the most suitable choice for their enrichment and well-being. For cat owners looking to provide their pets with natural, safe options for play and relaxation, both catnip and silvervine are excellent choices.

 

Gradual Introduction and Stimulant Rotation

When introducing these herbs to cats, it's important to start gradually. Observing a cat's response to small amounts of catnip or silvervine can guide owners in determining the appropriate frequency and amount for future use. Whether purchased or grown at home, these herbs should be used as part of a rotation of toys and stimulants to maintain their novelty and effectiveness.


Growing and Using Catnip and Silvervine at Home

Catnip Growing Tips For Your Cat Garden

Growing catnip and silvervine at home can be a rewarding experience for cat owners. As noted by UME [1], catnip is a hardy plant that thrives in both sun and shade, making it adaptable to various garden settings. The process of growing catnip from seed or by division is straightforward, offering a fresh, potent source of stimulation for cats.

When starting from seeds, the propagation of catnip is relatively easy. The seeds can be sowed directly into the soil in spring or started indoors approximately eight weeks before the last frost. It's important to remember that catnip seeds require a good deal of light to germinate. Therefore, do not bury them deep into the soil; instead, lightly press them into the surface. Watering should be done moderately; overwatering can lead to root rot.

a hand planting a small Nepeta cataria catnip plant in a garden, with a cat sleeping peacefully in the background

As the plant matures, occasional pruning will help promote bushier growth and more prolific leaf production. In addition, while catnip is generally resistant to pests, regular checks for common garden pests like aphids or spider mites can ensure your plant stays healthy. With these simple steps, you can provide your feline friend with a constant supply of fresh, homegrown catnip.

 

Can You Add Silvervine to Your Cat Garden?

For those interested in silvervine, understanding its native environment is key. As a plant that originates from the mountainous regions of Eastern Asia, it may require more specific growing conditions, similar to those of kiwifruit plants. However, for cat owners living in suitable climates or with the ability to create a conducive growing environment, cultivating silvervine can provide a continuous supply of this potent herb.

 

Final Thoughts on Cultivating Catnip and Silvervine

Creating a cat-friendly garden by cultivating catnip and silvervine not only provides your cat with a safe and natural stimulant but also adds a touch of nature's beauty to your garden. While these herbs may require different growing conditions, understanding and catering to their specific needs will result in a lush, healthy plant.

 

The Science Behind the Reaction

Your Cat Knows What Joy Smells Like

The science behind cats' reactions to catnip and silvervine is fascinating and complex. Research, including the studies cited in BMC Veterinary Research [4], reveals that the compounds in these plants, such as nepetalactone and nepetalactol, activate the cat's olfactory system. The compounds found in these herbs, specifically nepetalactone in catnip and nepetalactol in silvervine, play a vital role in triggering these reactions. This stimulation is responsible for the distinctive behaviors observed in cats, such as rolling, pawing, and engaging in playful antics.

 

Ongoing Research: A Continuing Discovery of Further Benefits

The interest in these natural compounds extends beyond their effects on feline behavior. As highlighted by HU [5], these compounds also have insect-repelling properties, which adds an extra layer of utility and interest. The ongoing research into how these compounds interact with a cat's biology continues to reveal new insights, making catnip and silvervine subjects of both practical pet care and scientific inquiry.

 

Is Liking Catnip and Silvervine an Evolutionary Advantage?

Catnip and silvervine offer more than just pleasure to cats. These plants possess insect-repelling properties that may give felines an evolutionary advantage. By instinctively being drawn to the scents of nepetalactone and nepetalactol, cats might unintentionally protect themselves from harmful parasites and insects. This unique attraction to catnip and silvervine could be seen as an innovative adaptation rather than a mere quirk, benefiting felines' survivability and overall fitness over countless generations.

 

Catnip or Silvervine: Making the Right Choice for Your Cat

Every Cat Is Unique

In the comparison between catnip and silvervine, both have a place in a cat owner's arsenal of enrichment tools. Your choice may depend on your cat's individual likes and sensitivities, or perhaps you'll use both to provide variety and tailor the experience to different occasions or desired responses.

quilt of a variety of cats, cute style, showcasing the uniqueness and individuality seen across cats

 

Reminder to Introduce Gradually

As a responsible pet owner, never forget the crucial role of observation and safety when incorporating new elements into your cat's routine. Always monitor your cat's reactions, and consult with a veterinarian if you have any concerns about use with existing health conditions or other medications.

 

You're Ready to Decide

By understanding the science behind these plants and their effects, you're equipped to make informed decisions that prioritize your feline friend's well-being and happiness. Whether it's the occasional nip or a silvervine-scented play session, your cat will thank you for the stimulating and wonderfully weird world you've curated.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, both catnip and silvervine offer unique and engaging experiences for cats. The choice between them will depend on individual cat preferences and reactions. Understanding the nuances of each herb's effects, along with the scientific principles behind them, can help cat owners make informed decisions. By incorporating catnip or silvervine into their pet's life, owners can provide beneficial mental and physical stimulation, contributing to their overall health and happiness.

 

FAQs

Catnip FAQs

Understanding Catnip: Basics

What is catnip?

Catnip is a member of the mint family that can induce a playful or euphoric response in many cats when they smell it.

Does catnip affect other animals?

Catnip is known to affect most members of the feline family. It also acts as a natural insect repellent that attracts pollinators. Catnip generally does not affect other animals.

Where can I get catnip?

Catnip can be purchased at pet stores, online pet supply websites, and even some grocery stores that stock pet supplies. It can be found in the wild year-round throughout North America and Europe. Catnip can also be easily grown at home.

Catnip Benefits and Effects

What are the benefits of catnip for cats?

Catnip can provide mental and physical stimulation, which can be beneficial to your cat's overall health and happiness. Catnip also serves as a natural insect repellent, protecting your cat from harmful pests such as mosquitoes.

How does catnip affect cats?

Catnip contains nepetalactone, a compound that can elicit various responses in cats when they smell it, such as rolling, purring, leaping, and overall excitement.

How long does the effect of catnip last?

On average, the effect of catnip lasts about 10-15 minutes. After this period, cats usually won't respond to catnip for about an hour.

Does every cat respond to catnip?

No, not all cats will respond to catnip. Around two-thirds of cats are affected by catnip.

What if my cat doesn't react to catnip?

Every cat is different, and some cats may not respond to catnip. There are other types of cat-friendly herbs such as silvervine, valerian root, and Tatarian honeysuckle.

Using Catnip Safely

Is it safe to give my cat catnip?

Yes, in moderation. Overexposure can lead to mild gastrointestinal upset, so monitor your cat's reaction and consult with a vet if you are unsure.

Is catnip safe for cats to eat?

Catnip is non-toxic and generally safe for cats to eat, but moderation is key. Overconsumption may cause mild gastrointestinal upset.

Can my cat overdose on catnip?

No, a cat can't overdose on catnip. However, excessive consumption can lead to mild gastrointestinal upset.

Can catnip interact with my cat's medication?

Catnip can interact with certain medications, therefore it's best to first consult with a veterinarian.

Is catnip essential oil safe for cats?

Catnip essential oil should not be given to or used around cats, as it contains highly concentrated amounts of the active compound nepetalactone.

Introducing and Administering Catnip

How often can I give my cat catnip?

There is no recommended limit as catnip is safe for cats and non-toxic. However, too much exposure can cause desensitization.

How can I introduce catnip to my cat's routine?

You can gradually introduce catnip by sprinkling a small amount on their toys or scratching posts.

Can I give my cat catnip essential oil?

Catnip essential oil should not be given to or used around cats, as it contains highly concentrated amounts of the active compound nepetalactone.

Growing and Harvesting Catnip

Can I grow my own catnip?

Yes, catnip is a relatively low-maintenance perennial herb that thrives in various climates. It can be grown indoors or outdoors with little effort.

Can I grow catnip indoors?

Catnip can be grown indoors with very little space. Place it near a window or in a sunny room, and move it to direct sunlight if necessary.

How do I grow catnip at home?

To grow catnip successfully, select a sunny spot with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Prepare the soil by loosening it and removing any weeds or debris. Spread catnip seeds on top, lightly press them down, and water until the soil is moist. Keep the soil moist without flooding it.

How do I protect my catnip plant from cats?

Growing catnip in a hanging pot or sealed area can keep it safe from cats. When dealing with particularly persistent cats, it may be necessary to use extra catnip treats.

How do I harvest my catnip plant?

Once catnip plants grow to approximately 12 inches, the leaves can be harvested or entire stems can be cut for quicker regrowth and easier drying.

Catnip and Young Cats

Can kittens be given catnip?

Kittens under 3-6 months old usually do not respond to catnip. While completely harmless, it's best to wait until they are older.

Catnip and Other Animals

Does catnip affect other animals?

Catnip is known to affect most members of the feline family. It also acts as a natural insect repellent that attracts pollinators. Catnip generally does not affect other animals.

Catnip and Insects

What insects are repelled by catnip?

Catnip repels certain pest insects such as mosquitoes, flies, roaches, and ants while attracting beneficial insects such as butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

Will catnip repel butterflies?

Catnip attracts beneficial insects such as butterflies and bees while repelling pest insects like mosquitoes, flies, roaches, and ants.

Do bees like catnip?

Bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects are attracted to catnip, while pest insects like mosquitoes, flies, roaches, and ants are repelled by it.

 

Silvervine FAQs

Understanding Silvervine: Basics

What is silvervine?

Silvervine, also known as matatabi, is a vine native to East Asia that can also have a euphoric effect on cats.

Does silvervine affect other animals?

Silvervine is known to affect most members of the feline family and acts as a natural insect repellent. Silvervine generally has no effect on other animals.

Where can I get silvervine?

Silvervine can be purchased at pet stores, online pet supply websites, and even some grocery stores that stock pet supplies. It can be found in mountainous regions of China, Japan, and Eastern Russia. With the right conditions, silvervine can also be grown at home.

Silvervine Benefits and Effects

What are the benefits of silvervine for cats?

Silvervine can provide mental and physical stimulation, which can be beneficial to your cat's overall health and happiness. Chewing silvervine sticks can naturally enhance your cat's dental hygiene. Silvervine also serves as a natural insect repellent, protecting your cat from harmful pests such as mosquitoes.

How does silvervine affect cats?

Silvervine contains compounds like nepetalactol that, when cats smell them, can elicit various reactions, such as rolling, purring, leaping, and overall excitement.

How long does the effect of silvervine last?

On average, the effect of silvervine lasts for up to 30 minutes. After this period, cats usually won't respond to silvervine for 20-30 minutes.

Does every cat respond to silvervine?

No, not every cat will respond to silvervine. Around 80% of cats are affected by silvervine.

What if my cat doesn't react to silvervine?

Every cat is different, and some cats may not respond to silvervine. There are other types of cat-friendly herbs such as catnip, valerian root and Tatarian honeysuckle.

Using Silvervine Safely

Is it safe to give my cat silvervine?

Yes, in moderation. Overexposure can lead to mild gastrointestinal upset, so monitor your cat's reaction and consult with a vet if you are unsure.

Is silvervine safe for cats to eat?

Silvervine is generally safe for cats to eat, but overconsumption may cause mild gastrointestinal upset. It is important to keep an eye on your cat to ensure that silvervine sticks do not get lodged in their throat.

Can my cat overdose on silvervine?

No, it's not possible for a cat to overdose on silvervine. However, excessive consumption can lead to mild gastrointestinal upset.

Can silvervine interact with my cat's medication?

Silvervine may interact with some medications, so it's best to consult with a vet before use.

Introducing and Administering Silvervine

How often can I give my cat silvervine?

There is no recommended limit as silvervine is safe for cats and non-toxic. However, too much exposure can cause desensitization.

How can I introduce silvervine to my cat's routine?

You can start introducing silvervine with a small silvervine stick, or gradually introduce silvervine by sprinkling a small amount of silvervine powder on their toys or scratching post.

Growing and Harvesting Silvervine

Can I grow my own silvervine?

Silvervine thrives in warmer climates, requiring moist, but well-drained fertile soil and abundant sunlight for proper growth.

Can I grow silvervine indoors?

Silvervine requires ample sunlight and regular watering and can be grown even in limited spaces. Position it near a window or in a sunlit room, and remember to water it frequently.

How do I grow silvervine at home?

To grow silvervine, you need a potting mix with good drainage and a seed/cutting. Plant it in a sunny spot, water it regularly, and fertilize occasionally.

How do I protect my silvervine plant from cats?

To protect silvervine from cats, consider growing it in a hanging pot or a sealed area. If dealing with persistent cats, providing extra silvervine treats may become necessary.

How do I harvest my silvervine plant?

Silvervine plant is a versatile plant; its leaves, stems, and fruits can all be harvested. Once the plant has matured, carefully pluck the leaves or cut the stems and let them dry in a shaded and well-ventilated area. The small, hard fruits can be collected and dried as well.

Silvervine and Young Cats

Can kittens be given silvervine?

Kittens under 3 months old usually do not respond to silvervine. While completely harmless, it's best to wait until they are older.

Silvervine and Other Animals

Does silvervine affect other animals?

Silvervine acts as a natural insect repellent that attracts pollinators. Silvervine generally does not affect other animals, although some dog owners use silvervine sticks for dental cleaning.

Silvervine and Insects

What insects are repelled by silvervine?

Silvervine repels certain pest insects such as mosquitoes, flies, roaches, and ants while attracting beneficial insects such as butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

Will silvervine repel butterflies?

Silvervine attracts beneficial insects such as butterflies and bees while repelling pest insects like mosquitoes, flies, roaches, and ants.

Do bees like silvervine?

Bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects are attracted to silvervine, while pest insects like mosquitoes, flies, roaches, and ants are repelled by it.

 

Catnip and Silvervine FAQs

Catnip and Silvervine

Can I use both catnip and silvervine?

Yes, using both can provide variety and tailor the experience to different occasions or desired responses.

What are the differences in effects between catnip and silvervine?

Catnip and silvervine have similar effects on cats, but silvervine is more potent and lasts longer. However, some cats may prefer one over the other.

If my cat doesn't react to catnip, will sivervine work?

It's possible for cats who don't react to catnip to still react to silvervine; 50% to 70% of cats respond to catnip while 80% of cats respond to silvervine.

If my cat doesn't react to silvervine, will catnip work?

It's possible that cats who do not react to silvervine may still react to catnip, as they have different compounds responsible for their effects.

 

 

Works Cited

Bol, Sebastiaan, et al. "Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria)." BMC Veterinary Research, vol. 13, no. 70, 2017, scholars.uthscsa.edu . Accessed 20 Jan. 2024.

 

Center for Crop Diversification. "Catnip." University of Kentucky, 9 Mar. 2019, www.uky.edu/ccd/production/crop-resources/herbs-medicinals/catnip . Accessed 20 Jan. 2024.

 

Science in the News. "The cat's out of the bag! Why cats can’t get enough of catnip." Harvard University, 4 Jan. 2024, sitn.hms.harvard.edu . Accessed 20 Jan. 2024.

 

University of Maryland Extension. "Catnip." University of Maryland Extension, 20 Feb. 2023, extension.umd.edu . Accessed 20 Jan. 2024.

 

University of Wisconsin-Extension. "Catnip, Nepeta cataria." Wisconsin Horticulture, 11 July 2016, hort.extension.wisc.edu . Accessed 20 Jan. 2024.

 

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.