The catnip found in pet shops in the US and Europe is most likely the dried or powdered leaves and stems of the Nepeta cataria, a relative of oregano and spearmint. The plant is quite common and grows wild in northern Europe, New Zealand and North America
It’s the compound nepetalactone, found in the plants that drives some cats into paroxysms of pleasurable sniffing, rubbing, and rolling. It can also affect big cats including lions, tigers and leopards although curiously kittens up to approximately 12 weeks are immune from its temptations.
Even over this age, only about half of domestic cats will be genetically disposed to go gaga over the scent of the volatile oil hidden in the stems and leaves of Nepeta cateria. You’ll know if your fur babe is one of them by her behavior after getting a whiff. The head- rubbing, back-rolling euphoria is obvious – although it only lasts 10 minutes or so. Afterwards there is a space of around two hours when the cat will not be affected by catnip.
For cats that do not get a kick out of catnip, there is a new kid in town – Matatabi, also called silvervine elicits a stronger reaction, in a wider number of cats. It’s also perfectly safe and generally comes in stick form which also has dental health benefits.
What is Matatabi
While Nepeta Cateria has conquered the hearts of North America and Europe cats, Asia’s pet cats go gaga for matatabi.
The Actinindia Polygama, also called Silver Vine, has been tickling the fancy of cats in Japan since forever. The common name matatabi can even be found in ancient sayings like “neko ni matatabi, joro ni koban”, meaning matatabi is to a cat, as a coin is to a prostitute. In other words, cats love matatabi. A lot.
Nahla, have you been at the matatabi again?
How do cats react to Matatabi/Silver Vine?
The same giddiness euphoric rolling, drooling, and zoning, commonly seen with catnip are also seen with matatabi although many cat owners report the matatabi reaction is strongeri.
The matatabi effect also lasts longer and there is a shorter period before a cat can experience a new reaction.
How many cats react to Matatabi?
Many cats that are not genetically predisposed to react to catnip will react to matatabi/silvervine.
In 2017, BMC Veterinary Research published a study comparing the responsiveness of cats to silvervine, tatarian honeysuckle, valerian and catnip. Of the 100 cats and nine tigers they tested, one in three cats had no response to catnip while only one in five had no response to matatabi. Tatarian honeysuckly and valerian root were about 50% effective.
The study showed that 75% of cats that had no reaction to catnip DID react to matatabi. Oddly, none of the tigers were interested in matatabi although this is also true of catnip.
Silvervine potential for indoor cat health
The above study touches upon how the living environment of indoor cats greatly determines their quality of life. Lacking the stimulation and exercise potential of the great outdoors, cats can become bored and easily stressed. A stressed or bored cat is more likely to be desturctive, aggressive, obsessive and prone to certain diseases.
Cat owners often offset this with an enriched environment of cat trees, shelves, scratching posts, interactive cat toys and hidey holes.
Although effective improvements to the living environments of cats are well known and often used to increase their quality of life, olfactory stimulation is often overlooked as a means of enrichment, despite recognition of the importance of environmental smells for cats by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society of Feline Medicine
Given its potential to improve quality of life for xx cats, the researchers asked a small number of cats and vat techs in the USA and Australia if they were aware of silver vine or Tatarian honeysuckle. 95% of the veterinarians and all the veterinary technicians were not aware of either plant and their potential to enrichment to the lives of indoor cats.
You can buy matatabi in powder or dried form much like catnip but it is also available as sticks. These can be chewed by the cat which is reported to be good for teeth and gum health. Depending on the type of matatabi sticks you buy, they will likely have a thin layer of bark still on them. If your cats shows no reaction, try scraping this bark off a section to release the volatile oils.
Have You Given Your Cat Silvervine, Tartarian Honeysuckle or Valerian Root?
If you have tried any of the alternatives to cat nip, we would love to hear how your cat reacted. At Basket of Cats, all three resident testers react to catnip, although Spike does so only mildly. They all loooove matatabi. we have not tried the others as yet.