What You Need to Know About Silvervine

Cat with Matatabi Stick

Did you know that 50 percent of cats don’t like catnip

But almost 80 percent of cats respond to silvervine, says the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

While catnip contains one compound (nepetalactone) that attracts cats, silvervine has two — actinidine and dihydroactinidiolide. It also has half a dozen other active ingredients that are similar to nepetalactone.

“Chewing on silvervine sticks knocks tartar off your cat’s teeth,” says Sara Ochoa, a veterinary consultant for DogLab. Sprinkling a fourth of a teaspoon on your cat’s bed, toys, or scratching posts can help with arthritis, anxiety, nausea, and high blood pressure.

Middle-aged, overweight cats that live indoors have a higher risk for idiopathic lower feline tract disease (FLUTD). Cats with FLUTD may urinate outside of their litter boxes, often on cool, smooth surfaces like a tile floor or in the bathtub. When they have accidents, the human-cat bond may fracture. Cats are sometimes put outdoors or surrendered to shelters.

Silvervine can encourage your cat to routinely play — fighting obesity and stress.  

Since it decreases depression and compulsive behaviors, it can also help you bond with your cat.

What's silvervine?

silvervine flowers

Silvervine (also known as matatabi, Japanese catnip, and cat powder) is a climbing plant that grows in the mountainous regions of China, Japan, Korea, and Eastern Russia between 1,600 and 6,200 feet. 

Silvervine produces white flowers with yellow centers from June to July and then egg-shaped, yellow-red fruit from October to November. A member of the kiwi family (Actinidiaceae), its heart-shaped leaves look like they’ve been brushed with silvery-white paint.

In Japanese Kampo Medicine, silvervine leaves are used to treat back pain, kidney disease, urinary tract infections, and cancer.

In recent years, silvervine, valerian root, Tatarian honeysuckle, and Indian nettle have become widely used alternatives to catnip.

What’s the difference between catnip and silvervine? 

Silvervine Catnip
Silvervine Catnip

Scientific name

Actinidia polygama

Nepeta cataria

Nicknames

Matatabi, Japanese catnip, cat powder

Catswort, catmint

Grows in

Mountainous regions of China, Japan, Korea, and Eastern Russia 

Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America 

Plant type

Fast-growing, fruit-bearing vine

Herbaceous plant

Chemicals that attract cats

Actinide and dihydroactinidiolide

Nepetalactone

Effects on cats

Sedation, hyperactivity, playfulness, rolling, drooling, and licking

Similar to silvervine 

Percentage of cats that respond

80 percent

50 percent

 

How do cats respond to silvervine? 

When flies lay their eggs in silvervine fruit, they become bumpy and are known as “gall fruit”. Then they’re dipped in boiling water to kill the larvae inside and dried out in the sun. According to a study published in BMC Veterinary Research, cats predominantly respond to silvervine fruit galls. They’re available whole or ground into a light brown powder.  

The fruit, leaves, buds, and stems of silvervine have a sweet, pungent smell. But kittens (less than eight months old) and pregnant females might not have any reaction. Most cats will meow or moderately drool. They’ll also zip through the house, roll around on their sides or backs, give cheek or chin rubs, and bunny kick toys. Although silvervine isn’t as well-known in the Western world, it’s so popular in Asia that a cat’s reaction to it is known as the “Matatabi Dance.”

“The hallucination effects usually only last five to 30 minutes. At most, you’ll see signs for about an hour in your cat,” Ochoa says. “OJ is my inside/outside cat.  After he has silvervine, he’ll usually go outside and find a bird or squirrel to hunt.”

Is silvervine safe? 

While silvervine chew sticks are on the market, they’re usually not the stems of silvervine plants but pieces of wood that have been infused with its scent. “When the sticks are so small that your cat could accidentally swallow or choke on them. It’s best to throw them away,” Ochoa says. 

There isn't any risk of toxicity. Cats can’t really overdose on silvervine because they’ll stop once they’ve had enough. “I only let my cat play with it once a week. It can be used every day without any harmful side effects,” she says.

We carry an Organic Catnip Variety Pack that has catnip buds, a silvervine blend, and a valerian root blend. Click here to buy yours.

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