Cats have a very sensitive sense of smell. Certain scents, like the smell of catnip, can have an array of effects on cats, such as helping them adjust to their environment and interact socially.
You’ve no doubt heard of catnip, but what if your cat doesn’t really respond to it? There are some alternatives--plants such as silver vine, honeysuckle, and valerian have all been used to satisfy the feline sense of smell.
Surprisingly, silver vine is the most effective of these plants, as more cats respond to its smell than even catnip.
Find out what silver vine is, the effect it has on cats, how it compares to catnip, and how to give your cat silver vine.
What Is Silver Vine?
Silver vine, otherwise known as Actinidia polygama, is native to the mountainous regions of China, Japan, and Russia. It’s a member of the kiwi family (Actinidiaceae) and gets its name from the silver-white marks on its leaves.
Silver vine produces white, cup-shaped flowers. While most plants are monoecious, meaning their flowers have both male and female structures, silver vine is dioecious, which means that each individual plant is either male or female. This means you will need both a male and a female for it to produce fruit.
Silver vine produces orange fruit that has an egg shape. The fruits are edible and typically appear in October and November. Silver vine fruit contains up to five times the amount of vitamin C that a black currant does.
In humans, silver vine is considered a medicinal plant that is sometimes used in alternative medicine preparations. In large quantities, its leaves have a mildly hallucinogenic effect in people.
What Does Silver Vine Do to Cats?
Indoor cats need a variety of stimuli to keep them happy. Silver vine produces a euphoric effect on cats that’s similar to catnip.
The effects begin immediately after coming in contact with silver vine and only last up to 30 minutes. Typical cat behaviors associated with smelling silver vine include sedation, hyperactivity, rolling, and licking.
The use of silver vine for cats is common in some Asian countries, and a cat’s reaction to it is known as the “matatabi dance.” Matatabi literally means “travel again” in Japanese and is also a nickname for silver vine since it causes some cats to wiggle around on the floor.
According to research at Harvard University, one of the active ingredients in silver vine, nepetalactol, activates the reward and pleasure center in cat brains. This is comparable to the opioid system’s response to morphine in humans. However, silver vine is not addictive in cats.
Researchers have also found that cats who rub against this plant also get the added benefit of a natural insect repellent.
Silver Vine vs. Catnip
In a 2017 study, almost 80% of cats were responsive to silver vine versus 68% of cats that responded to catnip. Approximately 75% of the cats that were unresponsive to catnip were responsive to silver vine.
The exceptions to this include kittens less than 8 months old and pregnant females. Cats in these groups will probably not react to silver vine, or they will have less pronounced reaction. It is unclear as to why that is.
Plants like catnip and silver vine produce allomones, which cause a reaction by smell rather than ingesting. In catnip, the active ingredient is a compound known as nepetalactone. By contrast, silver vine has six active ingredients that are similar to nepetalactone, as well as two additional active ingredients your cat will respond to: actinidine and dihydroactinidiolide.
How Do You Give Cats Silver Vine?
Powder produced from the silver vine gall fruit will produce the best effects because it’s the most potent formulation. Silver vine sticks are helpful in removing tartar from a cat’s teeth because of the chewing action. Monitor your cat when you give them silver vine sticks, as fragments and small pieces can break off and become a choking hazard or cause an obstruction if your cat is not able to pass it.
Can Cats Eat Silver Vine?
The short answer is yes. There are a few different formulations of sliver vine available for feline consumption, such as sticks, gall fruit (powdered or whole), sprays, and powders made from miscellaneous parts of the plant, such as the leaves and pieces of fruit.
Gall fruit, the most potent form, is a result of flies laying eggs in the silver vine fruit. The fly eggs and larvae cause the fruit to form galls, or lumps with a higher concentration of the active compounds. To make the fruit safe for consumption, it’s dipped into boiling water and dried in the sun. The finished product can either be given to your cat as-is, or ground into a powder.
Silver vine is a wonderful addition to a cat’s routine. As with any new treat or supplement, check with your veterinarian before giving your cat silver vine to see if it is an acceptable and safe option.
Because of the possible medicinal effects of the gall fruit and the choking risk of the silver vine sticks, always monitor your cat while they are enjoying silver vine in any form.
- Abramson CI, Lay A, Bowser TJ, Varnon CA. The Use of Silver Vine (Actinidia Polygama Maxim, Family Actinidiaceae) as an Enrichment Aid for Felines: Issues and Prospects. American Journal of Animal and Veterinary Sciences. 2012;7(1):21-27. https://doi.org/10.3844/ajavsp.2012.21.27
- Actinidia polygama Silver Vine PFAF Plant Database. pfaf.org. Accessed October 4, 2021. https://pfaf.org/User/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Actinidia+polygama
- Uenoyama R, Miyazaki T, Hurst JL, et al. The characteristic response of domestic cats to plant iridoids allows them to gain chemical defense against mosquitoes. Science Advances. 2021;7(4):eabd9135. doi:10.1126/sciadv.abd9135
- Bol S, Caspers J, Buckingham L, et al. Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria). BMC Veterinary Research. 2017;13. doi:10.1186/s12917-017-0987-6
- Crazy for Catnip: the Mosquito-Repelling Story behind a Cat’s Love for Catnip. Science in the News. Published February 18, 2021. Accessed October 4, 2021. https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2021/crazy-for-catnip-the-mosquito-repelling-story-behind-a-cats-love-for-catnip/
- Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants and Its Uses. Actinidia polygama.
Featured image: iStock.com/Nils Jacobi