My Cat Doesn’t Like Catnip! 5 Catnip Alternatives

Apr 22, 2024 | Pet Ownership

If you’ve been a cat owner for a while, you’ll know that for most of our felines, catnip is their absolute favorite thing in the world. It’s kind of the perfect kitty “drug”: it gives our felines an euphoric feeling and can help them with issues like anxiety, but it’s not addictive and they can’t overdose on it. The only problem? Not all cats are into it. What should you do if your cat doesn’t like catnip?

If you want the positive effects of catnip for your cat but it’s not showing interest in this wonder herb, don’t worry. There are actually a bunch of alternatives that are equally beneficial and harmless, which may appeal to felines who don’t like to indulge in catnip. Let’s have a look at 5 of them below!

My cat doesn’t like catnip—why?!

It’s actually not that unusual for a cat to fail to show interest in catnip!

Catnip is a plant in the mint family Lamiaceae, scientifically known as Nepeta cataria. It contains an essential oil that has been dubbed nepetalactone, which the plant actually produces in order to repel insects but which also has a funny effect on a wide range of different feline species—from house cats to lions.

Although most cats will try to eat catnip, the effect actually works through the olfactory system. When they smell dried catnip in particular, certain receptors respond to the Nepetalactone to elicit an apparently euphoric feeling. As we discussed in our post on what catnip does for a cat, this is usually accompanied by playful behaviors like rolling, drooling, meowing, and similar. Alternatively, some cats respond by sitting very still.



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Research has shown that about 60% of cats respond to catnip. It doesn’t do much for the other 40%, so these cats don’t tend to be interested. There are some factors thought to play a part in this. For example, kittens and senior cats are rarely into catnip. Their reactions may also vary by sex, as well as whether the cat was spayed/neutered at an early age or not.

Image of black cat surrounded by blooming catnip plants with text saying: My cat doesn't like catnip | 5 catnip alternatives

5 catnip alternatives

If your cat is among the ~40% of felines who just isn’t that into catnip, it’s missing out. Clearly, cats who do respond to it really enjoy it, making it a great form of enrichment for them. On top of this, catnip can actually have positive effects beyond just a fun high. For example, it has been observed to help to relieve anxiety and pain. Those are benefits we all want for our furry friends!

Luckily, catnip isn’t the only plant that produces volatile components that make cats “high”. There are a few pretty similar catnip alternatives out there. In fact, scientific studies suggest that a large percentage of cats who don’t respond to catnip do respond to many of these other plants. In fact, in a 2017 study, researchers found that “nearly all domestic cats responded to at least one of the plant materials tested“. Conclusion? There’s something for every cat!

Below, we’ll have a look at 5 plants you can introduce to your feline friend to see if it responds to them.

Tip: It’s best to offer catnip and its alternatives in the form of an extract or inside a toy or sock. Although these natural stimulants work through your cat’s sense of smell, it will often try to chew on and eat the plant material as well. And although these plants aren’t toxic, ingestion of large amounts of any plant can cause vomiting in cats, which would kind of ruin the fun.

Silver vine

Probably the most well-known alternative to catnip is Actidinia polygama, better known as the silver vine. This plant is a type of kiwifruit, and it does indeed produce hairless fruits similar to small kiwis. Because it contains a compound similar to nepetalactone (called actinidine), its effect on cats is almost identical to that of catnip. Dried powdered silver vine fruit galls in particular drive many cats nuts!

In our aforementioned study on cats’ reactions to catnip alternatives, about 79% responded to silver vine. That’s actually more than catnip itself.

Did you know? Although we haven’t found any studies exploring the effect of other types of kiwi plants on cats, we’ve personally seen them go nuts for clippings of Actidinia deliciosa. This is the plant that grows the “regular” fuzzy kiwis you’ll find in your local supermarket. So give that one a try too!

Ginger cat playing with silver vine plant branch

Valerian

You may know valerian—or rather, its root—as a plant with sedative effects. Indeed, we humans can make a tea from it that helps us fall asleep. But did you know that, like silver vine, it also contains high levels of actinidine? As a result, many cats will experience catnip-like effects if they sniff dried valerian root.

In the 2017 study, 47% of cats responded to valerian. That’s lower than silver vine and catnip, but still enough to make it worth trying if your cat doesn’t like catnip!

Tatarian honeysuckle

Better known as Lonicera tatarica, Tatarian honeysuckle is a popular garden plant thanks to its beautiful blooms. We humans like to sniff the flowers for their lovely sweet scent, but cats like honeysuckle for a completely different reason. It’s another example of a plant that contains actinidine, meaning you can try it as a replacement if your cat doesn’t like catnip.

In the 2017 study, 53% of cats responded to Tatarian honeysuckle. Do check local regulations before you grow this plant in your garden, because it’s considered invasive in the US and there may be local regulations restricting it.

Catmint

As we’ve mentioned, classic catnip is a member of a genus of plants in the mint family known as Nepeta. This entire genus is often collectively referred to as catmint. Although Nepeta cataria or catnip definitely appears to have the strongest effect on our feline friends, other species of catmint also contain nepetalactone. This means that your cat may respond to them similarly.

Gardeners are usually more fond of other Nepeta species than of catnip, as it doesn’t bloom quite as prettily as the other members of its genus. If you grow catmint in your garden, no matter the species, we recommend drying it letting your cat have a sniff. Like all the plants on this list, it’s completely safe, so the worst thing that can happen is that your feline isn’t interested.

Cat thyme

So, we’ll admit that we haven’t been able to find any scientific studies on the effect of this plant on cats. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work—just that so far, no one has performed a scientific experiment to observe it. But cat thyme (Teucrium marum) is also referred to as kitty crack, so we can safely assume it’s worth a try! There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence as to its effect on cats: gardeners sometimes have trouble keeping it alive because neighborhood cats love rolling in it and chewing on it so much.

The reason cat thyme may act as a stimulant on cats may be because it’s a species of germander. Like catnip and catmint, it belongs to the mint family, so it may contain components similar to nepetalactone that make our cats feel happy.

Conclusion

If your cat doesn’t like catnip, that’s fine. Many cats don’t! If you want your furry friend to be able to enjoy similar therapeutic and enriching effects, you can try offering a toy stuffed with dried silver vine fruit gall (highest probability of success), valerian root, Tatarian honeysuckle, various species of catmint, or cat thyme.

What’s your cat’s favorite way to get “high”? Let us know in the comments!

Sources & further reading

Bol at al. (2017). Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria). BMC veterinary research, 13, 1-16.

Espín-Iturbe, L. T., Yañez, B. A. L., García, A. C., Canseco-Sedano, R., Vázquez-Hernández, M., & Coria-Avila, G. A. (2017). Active and passive responses to catnip (Nepeta cataria) are affected by age, sex and early gonadectomy in male and female cats. Behavioural processes, 142, 110-115.

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