Is Silvervine for Cats Better Than Catnip? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

If you have a feline companion at home and you’re looking for new ways to introduce fun and enrichment to their life, you may be wondering if silvervine (Actinidia polygama) is something that could bring a bit of variety into their playtime experiences and if it’s better for cats than catnip (Nepeta cataria).

Although silvervine is not healthier or better than catnip, some cats do not react to catnip; it only elicits responses in about 68% of cats.1 Cats are more receptive to silvervine, and it affects around 80% of felines. Therefore, there’s a possibility that cats that aren’t affected by catnip can relax after a sniff or two of silvervine.

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What Is Silvervine?

Silvervine grows naturally in Russia, Japan, Korea, and China, where it’s long been used as a catnip alternative. It has white flowers and leaves that appear to be tipped with shimmery silver. The plant’s fruit resembles orange eggs.

Cats usually get the biggest kicks from silvervine products made from the plant’s gall fruit (that occur after insects lay eggs or larvae on the plant), but other parts, such as the leaves and stems, also contain the chemicals that cause reactions in cats, just at lower concentrations.

Silvervine is available in powder and stick form; the sticks are also known as matatabi sticks. Powdered products from the plant’s gall fruit are often the most potent options and deliver the biggest punch.

Powdered silvervine can be added to plush toys like dried catnip. Matatabi sticks may chewing opportunities, though speak with your vet prior to offering. It’s also possible to find toys stuffed with silvervine that come ready for cats to enjoy. Sprays are also available to keep scratching posts interesting.

silvervine tree
Image Credit: travelershigh, Shutterstock

What Is Catnip?

Catnip is native to Asia, Africa, and Europe. It’s part of the same family as mint. The plant’s small flowers are purple and have tiny white dots. Catnip’s effects may annectdotally vary depending on whether it’s sniffed or eaten: cats become active and energetic after smelling catnip, while eating the herb often encourages them to zone out and relax. Kittens generally don’t respond to catnip until they’re between 6 and 12 months old, and dried options are stronger than fresh products.

Cats can enjoy fresh and dried catnip. Many cat toys come pre-stuffed with it to encourage felines to engage and add a bit of extra fun to playtime. There are also sprays, which feature combinations of catnip and silvervine that make it easy to keep non-refillable toys interesting for pets.

cat sniffing catnip
Image Credit: CatCrazy, Pixabay

What Causes Silvervine and Catnip to Be So Attractive to Cats?

Silvervine and catnip feature compounds that trigger the reward centers of cats’ brains. Silvervine contains nepetalactol, and catnip has nepetalactone. However, silvervine contains additional compounds that work much like nepetalactone.

Does Silvervine Have Some of the Same Insect-Repellent Properties as Catnip?

Absolutely! Chewing on, rolling around in, and playing with silvervine and catnip leaves increases the effectiveness of the plants’ mosquito-fighting qualities. Rolling around in and rubbing against the plants is potentially an instinctual behavior that developed to protect cats in the wild from mosquitos and other biting insects.

Mosquito bites can cause heartworm disease, which can cause systemic inflammatory reactions. Heartworms, if left untreated, can potentially cause lifelong respiratory disease, or even be fatal to cats.

cat playing catnip toy
Image Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long do silvervine and catnip highs last?

In one study, no statistically significant difference was found in the length of response time in observed cats to the various plants that produce the so-called catnip response.

Is silvervine addictive?

No current data exists to show that silvervine is addictive; similarly catnip is also believed at present not to be addictive. Therefore, as far as we know, cats can’t overdose on silvervine or catnip, but they can potentially experience tummy problems if they consume too much at once.

Is it true that tigers don’t like silvervine?

Tigers don’t appear to be huge fans of silvervine. However other big cats, including leopards, jaguars, and lions, on the other hand, are affected by catnip, and they can often be seen rolling around and rubbing their bodies against the plant.

a tiger walking on grass
Image Credit: YanCabrera, Pixabay

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Silvervine and catnip produce similar responses in cats, and smelling them generally gives them a euphoric burst of energy. However, consuming the herbs can also have similar effects.

While there’s not much difference in how the two herbs affect cats, silvervine is more effective in triggering responses in felines. Neither catnip nor silvervine is known to be addictive, and both encourage cats to get up and engage in a bit of physical activity.

Featured Image Credit: Abigail Crawford, Shutterstock

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