Here's Why Cats Go Crazy for Catnip

Have you ever wondered why your cat goes crazy for catnip? Or silver vine? What causes their backs to twitch, their tails to swish and their pupils to dilate until they look like big, black saucers? And is it really safe to basically give our cats what is essentially a recreational kitty drug? If you’ve ever wondered any of the above, read on for answers!

What is catnip and silver vine?

An orange tabby cat rolling in a bush.

So we all know that catnip is a plant. Specifically, catnip is in the mint family, Latin name Nepeta cataria. It is native to Europe and Asia, but it can now be found growing in the wild in the Americas, too. It might look like an ordinary, everyday plant, but thanks to a special, harmless chemical produced in its microscopic buds, catnip transforms into a special treat for our feline friends.

Silver vine, also called matatabi in its native Mountainous regions of eastern Asia, is a catnip alternative. While catnip contains a single cat attractant, silver vine contains a cat stimulant that makes silver vine even more potent. It is an ideal choice for cats that don’t respond to catnip! Silver vine has been used in Asia for centuries as a preventative health measure for humans.

How Does It Affect Cats?

A tabby cat rolling around on a table covered in dried catnip.

The special little ingredient that makes your cat go bonkers when it gets a whiff of catnip is nepetalactone. When your cat inhales catnip, they inhale nepetalactone, which binds to receptors inside your cat’s nose, which then stimulates sensory neurons leading to the brain.

Once it reaches the brain, it triggers the euphoric state in cats that many cat owners have seen, including behaviors like rolling, swishing tails, twitchy backs, rubbing their faces in the catnip or on their toy, meowing, licking and even drooling. Reactions vary from cat to cat, but the bottom line is that most cats go bonkers for catnip! The effects generally last anywhere from 5-30 minutes, and cats will often become immune to the effects of catnip for about 10 minutes afterward.

If you’ve tried to no avail to get your cat interested in catnip, don’t worry. They’re not weird or broken!  One in three cats actually do not respond to catnip, according to a 2017 study. However, about 80 percent of all cats will respond to a catnip alternative known as silver vine.

Silver vine is chock full of actinidine, which acts as a powerful cat attractant. It elicits the same euphoric behaviors that catnip does, but more cats are likely to respond to this potent catnip alternative!

When and How to Use Catnip or Silver Vine

Catnip and silver vine do more than just get your cat really, really high. These natural stimulants encourage your cat to exercise, but also act as a source of stress relief for frustrated or anxious kitties.

Catnip and silver vine come in different forms, all of which trigger that fun, feline trip in your cat. There is, of course, the standard bag of dried catnip – which is also available in bottled shakers for less mess (and to keep your cats from tearing the bag apart – it’s happened to me too many times!)

A lot of cat owners don't like the mess that dried catnip offers, so they opt for catnip-filled toys.

A cat playing with an organic catnip toy shaped like a squirrel.
eaturing adopted Meowingtons Office Foster Cats, Diamond and Miguel playing with the 'Squirrel' Catnip Kicker Toy.

Refillable catnip toys are especially handy, so you can easily freshen up the catnip (or silver vine) if it goes stale - which your kitty will no doubt appreciate. 

Other catnip-based products take advantage of catnip oil extracts, like catnip bubbles, which can be even more enticing and aromatic to cats. If your cat has plaque buildup, chewing on natural silver vine sticks can help keep their teeth clean.

A cat drinking organic catnip wine out of a heart-shaped bowl.

And yes, there is such thing as catnip wine, for all you wine lovers out there who want to drink with your cats! Don't worry, it's completely non-alcoholic and infused with organic catnip extract cats will love. 

What is your cat's favorite way to enjoy catnip or silver vine? Let us know in the comments! 

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