By Sarah Beauchemin
Every day, many of us consider the various ways that we can “go green.” We try to make conscientious choices that will improve the health of ourselves, our loved ones, and our planet.
Add to this list another important consideration: the health of our feline friends! Going green absolutely pertains to cats, too – particularly in the form of catnip and silver vine. Both herbs have long been associated with temporary behavioral changes in our felines that we humans find delightful to witness: drooling in ecstasy; flipping and rolling around; and chasing invisible prey, just to name a few.
However, catnip and silver vine serve a greater purpose to our felines’ general health beyond providing a couple minutes of euphoria. Cats’ emotional health – and consequently, their physical wellbeing – can be significantly enhanced by regular exposure to catnip and silver vine.
So let’s take a closer look at what exactly these herbs are and why they matter so much to our cats’ welfare.
Catnip – The Tried and True
Nepetalactone is catnip's active ingredient and is responsible for inducing our kitties' transitory states of awesomeness. Catnip is not addictive or harmful to cats.
The euphoric effect of catnip usually lasts anywhere from 10-30 minutes, but how long it takes for the effect to kick in varies from cat to cat. For example, Oskar is affected more gradually by catnip; it takes him around an hour to become fully stimulated, but at his peak he’s extremely playful. The effects diminish as slowly as they come on, and he eventually becomes calm and satisfied.
Klaus, on the other hand, experiences an incredible burst of energy right away. He nibbles and play-fights for about five minutes, then crashes. Afterwards, like Oskar, Klaus remains mellow for a few more hours, basking in his tranquil state. Both cats enjoy crawling into boxes or lounging on carpet that's been sprinkled with catnip.
Oskar loves catnip toys, and new life is breathed into old toys by spraying them with catnip essence, something that is very important for Oskar's benefit. Since he is blind, his sense of smell is a critical means of stimulation as well as one of the primary ways in which he experiences the world. Therefore, catnip toys are key to meeting Oskar's (very high) play and stimulation demands, as their visual appearance obviously doesn't impress him much.
There are several different grades of catnip. Locally sourced, organic catnip is the most potent. From the Field makes this exact kind of wonderful, fresh catnip. Their product truly surpasses the quality of any other we've found, which is why we're so proud to carry it in our store. Mass-produced commercial catnip often lacks both quality and potency. We've found it goes stale quickly and it simply doesn't possess the potency necessary to stimulate either Oskar or Klaus.
If your cat doesn't respond to catnip, there could be a couple of reasons. As mentioned above, you could be using a commercial catnip that lacks the adequate potency to stimulate your cat. Or, if your cat is under one year of age – and especially if he is under six months – he will typically not respond to catnip until he is older. Finally, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that as many as 1 in 2 cats do not possess the gene that responds to catnip. If your kitty falls into this category, never fear, silver vine is here!
Silver Vine – The “Newcomer”
Many of us may be unfamiliar with silver vine, but it is far from new. It's been used in Asian countries for years, as it primarily grows at high elevations in China and Japan. Its active ingredient is actinidine – also found in valerian root – which produces similar effects to nepetalactone (catnip) in cats. Just like catnip, silver vine is non-toxic and non-addictive.
While the effects of silver vine last about as long as catnip (10-30 minutes), one marked difference between catnip and silver vine is that the latter is more potent. You may want to experiment by sprinkling a tiny bit on a favorite toy, or giving your cat a silver vine stick to chew and rub on. The great news? Cats that don’t respond to catnip may respond to silver vine quite well.
Why Catnip and Silver Vine Are Important To Your Cat's Overall Health
We’ve established how wonderful catnip and silver vine are for our kitties’ bouts of playtime. But what are the chief ways in which these herbs enhance their overall health?
- Relief of Stress and Anxiety – Cats are highly sensitive to stress (not just theirs, but ours), and like us, they require consistent periods of relaxation to maintain good health. Hiding, hissing and growling, and litterbox problems are just a few symptoms of stress that erroneously cause us to label a cat “mean” or “spiteful.” But in reality, cats are strict creatures of habit and can become stressed by seemingly innocuous conditions such as a new cat in the neighborhood or even new furniture in our home. We must remember that cats do not have the same choices in minimizing or managing stress like we do. Therefore, using catnip or silver vine on a regular basis – in conjunction with toys and play – can significantly lessen these stressors.
- Sharpens Natural Hunting Skills - Indoor cats can become lethargic, leaving their hunting skills dulled and unused. This is problematic because the instinctive urge to hunt remains an integral part of a cat’s genetic make-up. Being unable to act upon those urges can add to a cat’s stress. Toys and playtime provide some relief, but the mild hallucinogenic properties in catnip and silver vine are thought to allow cats to act upon their hunting skills in a different way altogether.
- Alleviation of Medical Ailments – Catnip and silver vine possess illness fighting properties for humans. One study at NYU’s Langone Medical Center suggests that catnip can treat digestive issues, anxiety, insomnia, and colds in humans. Similarly, silvervine may alleviate hypertension, arthritic pain, and act as a sedative in humans. While no comprehensive data exists on the subject, it’s very plausible that cats may derive many of these same medical benefits from the herbs. Consider how cats are, in some cases of severe stress, prescribed anti-anxiety medications such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or alprazolam (Xanax). Just as pharmaceuticals can help cats the same way they do humans, it makes sense that catnip and silver vine can, too.
- Increased Bonding with Humans – When the hyperactive effects of catnip and silver vine wear off and the cat enters his stage of sublime tranquility, he is more amenable to bonding with his human caretaker. The cat is now fully relaxed and free of stress, which makes it easy for us humans to cuddle, massage, and talk to him. This is an especially important bonding activity for cats that are skittish or shy. Many cats who are not “lap cats,” or that feel uncomfortable being cuddled, can experience quality bonding during this relaxed period of contentment. Cat-human bonding has long been associated with mood and quality of life improvement in both the animal and human.
While catnip and silver vine should not be used as a substitute for toys, playtime, and bonding with our felines, “going green” can effectively enhance our cats’ emotional, physical, and mental health. By keeping our little lions relaxed and in touch with their wild sides, we will all reap the benefits of a harmonious, green household.
Sarah Beauchemin is a freelance writer based in Southern California and owner of the arts & culture blog, thehumanitease.com.