Catnip Alternatives Part 2: Valerian Root

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I’m sure you, somebody who is reading a blog post on cats on a website for a cat behavior consultant, is familiar with catnip. The herb is well known for causing cats to get higher than a kite in a windstorm. You may have even tried giving your cat some catnip before or given it to them in a toy filled with the kitty frenzy inducing stuff.

While many people who try giving their cat catnip will note a delightful response of purrs, rolling around, and generally being stoned, catnip only elicits a response in about 60% of cats (though estimates of the exact percentage vary). Are there any options to get Fluffy baked as a cake if she doesn’t respond to the ‘nip?

Boy, are you in for some good news: There are actually a few options out there for cats who don’t respond to catnip. You can read up on one option, silver vine, or catnip itself. Today we’ll focus on another catnip alternative, though. This one may be a bit more familiar to you for reasons unrelated to cats.

Cat on the moon in an astronaut suit. The earth is in the background and there is a flag with a paw on it.
Your cat on valerian. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

What is Valerian Root?

Valerian root is a… Well, it’s a root of the valerian plant. There you go, blog finished! You’re welcome for all the knowledge.

Cheekiness aside, valerian root is the ground up root of the Valeriana officinalis plant. The plant comes from Europe and Asia originally and grows as a perennial. It can grow a few feet tall and has white flowers when it blooms. In fact, you may have actually seeing it growing here in Minnesota as it’s hardy to USDA zone 3! (Minnesota’s hardiness zone, for reference, is zone 4 in the lower half of the state and zone 3 up north)

Uses For Humans

Their use as an ornamental plant isn’t how they’re mostly known, however. Valerian has uses in traditional medicine, mostly as a sleep aid or calming supplement. However, it previously was used for all sorts of other ailments like migraines or even tiredness! So it would apparently *checks notes* put you to sleep and wake you up. Yikes, that sounds like a wild combo. You’ll want to check with a trained medical professional before giving it a whirl as it might not be appropriate for everyone and it may or may not be effective. That’s a topic for some other blog as my focus is on cats.

For both human and cat use, the part of the plant with the “good stuff” is the roots. If, after reading this blog, you decide to try growing some, you better be patient. It can take two years of growth before they’re ready to be harvested so don’t think they’ll be ready to grow by this fall if you sow the plants this spring. Once they’re harvested, the roots need to be dried and turned into a powder.

Valerian Root for Cats

Once you’ve grown some valerian plants, lovingly tended to them for two years, and then harvested their roots, you’ll probably want to give them to your feline friend. What can you expect?

The effects of valerian on cats are actually the opposite of what you’d expect in humans. Valerian acts as a stimulant to cats similar to catnip or silver vine. This is due to the compound actinidine, which may also be found in silver vine and tatarian honeysuckle. Rather than putting your cat to sleep, they’ll likely roll around, drool, purr, and rub up against everything in sight. Of course, as with catnip, some cats will become more sedated in response to valerian root.

Even though humans and cats may both be affected by valerian root, it’s probably not a great idea to pop open one of your own valerian root capsules to give to your cat. There are plenty of options for cats that are much safer.

My favorite kind of valerian root powder is from Meowy Janes. It’s what I use with my own cat and with clients’ cats. They also make the best silver vine and catnip out there as far as I’m concerned.

Valerian or Silver Vine?

Thinking of trying a catnip alternative and can’t decide between valerian root and silver vine? You could always try both as your cat may respond to both. That said, keep in mind response rates are different for each plant. Slightly fewer cats, somewhere around half of them, will respond to valerian when compared to catnip. Silver vine, meanwhile, has the highest response rate. If you want to try all three, Meowy Janes has a special sample pack for my clients so you can see which one your cat likes best.

Regardless of which one you try, it’s worth trying some of the catnip alternatives available if your cat doesn’t respond to catnip. There are ways to get them rolling and purring even if the ‘nip isn’t their thing!

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!