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What’s the Deal with Cats and Catnip or Silver Vine?

Twitching backs, swishing tails, and pupils like black holes - all telltale signs that your cat has found the catnip.

We all know catnip is basically "kitty crack," but why? What is it about catnip that drives our feline friends crazy?

And if it is Fluffy’s version of a stimulant street drug, is it safe to give her?

Let’s dive in.

What Is Catnip? Silver Vine?


Catnip is a plant in the mint family. While it may look like a normal but pretty plant to you and me, your cat sees it quite differently. Catnip contains a compound that attracts cats and makes them go bonkers for anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes.

Then there’s silver vine. As randy as your cat gets for catnip, she’ll go even more crazy for silver vine. Silver vine is a climbing plant that grows in the mountains of China and Japan. While catnip contains one cat attractant, silver vine contains two, making it twice as potent.

Why Does My Cat Love It?

Cat Eating Catnip

The chief ingredient in catnip that makes your cat go wild is nepetalactone. It’s a completely organic compound that occurs in some plants. When your cat sniffs catnip, oil containing nepetalactone enters your cat’s nasal cavity and binds to receptors that drive your cat’s super sensitive sensory neurons crazy.

Think of it like smelling salts mixed with your favorite scented candle.

If your cat doesn’t seem to respond to catnip, don’t worry - she’s not broken.A 2017 study found that one in three cats doesn’t respond to catnip. However, about 80 percent of all cats will respond to silver vine.

Silver vine contains actinidine, which is not only a powerful cat attractant, but also acts as a pheromone for insects. Silver vine is more potent than catnip and may cause a different response in your cat. But don’t worry - it’s perfectly safe! In fact, people all over Asia use silver vine as a health aid.

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When Should I Fork It Over?

Despite your cat’s disinterested demeanor, he actually needs quite a bit of stimulation. Playing with, touching, and exercising your cat are all great ways to reduce stress and promote health. However, while your cat likely gets plenty of visual and tactile stimulation, he also needs olfactory stimulation.

Cats have a powerful sense of smell, so appealing to their natural predilections for scent stimuli can go a long way toward making your kitty happy.

In other words, if you’re looking for ways to enrich your cat’s environment, reach for the catnip or silver vine.Researchers say that these plants are “an effective means to improve the quality of life for cats.”

And don’t worry: both catnip and silver vine are natural, non-toxic, and not addictive.

How to Get More Catnip In Kitty’s Life

Cat with Catnip Toy

You’ve probably seen bags of catnip at the pet store that look suspiciously like something worthy of a misdemeanor. Catnip and silver vine both come in the form of dried leaves that you can sprinkle on your cat’s favorite surface.

Because these dried plants can make a mess and turn into one more reason you need to vacuum more often, many pet parents opt for pouring the dried catnip or silver vine into a corrugated cardboard cat scratcher. The tiny compartments perfectly house the dried leaves and encourage your cat to scratch the safe surface (rather than scratching your couch!).

If you’d rather not sprinkle the dried version of either catnip or silver vine freely throughout your home, we understand. You can find cat toys that already contain the dried leaves or that you can fill as needed. Your cat will get a kick out of batting around this little ball of joy.

Catnip sprays allow you to give your furry friend all the joys of catnip without the crumbly mess. Use catnip spray on your cat’s favorite blanket, bed, or perch and watch him go to town.

If you prefer to harvest your own catnip or silver vine, you can grow a catnip plant in your window sill. Just be careful, though - Fluffy may be so excited about your new potted friend that she knocks your precious catnip plant to the floor.This catnip planter has a wide base and locks in dirt to prevent spills. If you’re searching for other plants safe for cats to eat, check out our list of best cat safe plants here.


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