Catnip has long been the preferred fix for cats. Given just a tiny whiff of the plant, most cats will temporarily turn into an approximation of a fully loaded, 1970s era Dennis Hopper. But for some cats, it’s as pointless as a non-alcoholic beer. A new study has found three new options that could allow all cats to get totally twisted.
Nepeta cataria was first discovered to send cats into a frenzy back in the 1940s. Since then, scientists have been unable to determine the genetic reason that some cats are overtaken by momentary delirium when exposed to it. Researchers have determined that nepetalactone is the active isomer that gets stimulates the felines. With that in mind, Sebastian Bol, a molecular biologist, and owner of the Cowboy Cat Ranch in Texas, decided to test out some other plants. Silver vine, Tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root do not contain nepetalactone but they have similar molecules.
With the help of some cat clinics in southern California, Bol experimented with the plants on 100 cats. Wired explains his process:
He rubbed the plant matter on a sock or a square of carpet, and set the material in the cats’ line of sight. Then he waited. If the cat approached and backed away, he considered that a denial. “Animals tend to move towards things they like, and back away from things they consider threats,” says Buffington. After each success or denial, he’d wait about five minutes for the cat to relax, then try again with another plant type. The response rate was striking: Almost 80 per cent of the cats responded to the silver vine (a higher response rate than even nip, which got less than 70 per cent of the cats high), and roughly 40 per cent each for valerian root and honeysuckle.
Twenty-three of the subjects responded to all of the plants while only six had no reaction to any of them. That could be because some cats just aren’t into feline recreational drugs, or it could be due to environmental factors. Even cats that get off on nip won’t react when they feel threatened.
Interestingly, Bol asked the caretakers at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida to test out the silver vine on some of its animals. Tigers were unresponsive to both silver vine and catnip. Bobcats, however, couldn’t be bothered by the nip but loved the silver vine. Unfortunately, no cheetahs were tested. We all want to see a high cheetah.
While we still don’t know all of the reasons that these plants act like recreational drugs for cats, there’s now more information to study. And for pet owners, there are more options to get your cat messed up. It makes for good YouTube videos and all creatures deserve a chance to unwind after a tough day.