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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!
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!). This may be disappointing to many cat parents who were hoping their kitties would enjoy the 'nip. Are there any alternatives available so their cats can enjoy the chemical induced delight that catnip responsive cats do?
I hope the post title tipped you off to the answers being a resounding yes! In fact, there are a few options out there. I've already posted about one such option, silvervine, so today we're onto another catnip alternative. This one may be a bit more familiar to you, but for reasons unrelated to cats.
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)
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 a stimulant to cats similar to catnip or silvervine. This is due to the compound actinidine, which may also be found in silvervine 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.
Valerian or Silvervine?
Thinking of trying a catnip alternative and can't decide between valerian root and silvervine? 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 less cats, somewhere around half of them, will respond to valerian when compared to catnip. Silvervine, meanwhile, has the highest response rate.
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!
About the author: Joey Lusvardi CCBC is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. He is available for consultation in the Twin Cities or virtually wherever you are located.