In the misspent days of my rock ‘n’ roll youth, I may have indulged in a number of substances that were not wholly legal. The kind of substances society shuns and for which rehabs were created. I’m not proud of those days, but to be honest, I am not ashamed of them either. In my street-wise group of friends, they were almost a rite of passage.
Cats? They don’t have to deal with society’s opinions when it comes to this type of recreational activity, nor do they have to keep one eye on the lookout for the cops. In fact, they are encouraged to indulge in all sorts of mind-bending herbs! I envy my feline friends for a lot of things, and this one is not the least of them.
Everyone who has ever lived with a cat knows about the big daddy of kitty highs: catnip. But there are several other substances your cat can use for her recreational enjoyment, some of which might even work better than the all-pervasive nip! Let’s take a look at each intoxicating substance and what they can do for your cats. Keep in mind that they 1) are all legal, 2) will not ruin your cat’s health or social standing, and 3) won’t necessitate a trip to the nearest rehabilitation facility or AA meeting. Your cats can enjoy them all freely, without repercussions. Lucky cats.
While everyone knows about its heady effects on felines, did you realize that approximately 30 percent of cats actually don’t respond to Nepeta cataria (the Latin name for catnip)? And usually it has no effect on young kittens. In fact, my blogging cat Sparkle ignored it until she was about two years old. Then she became a believer and joined my other two kitties, Binga and Boodie, in enthusiastic appreciation for the herb.
Either dried or fresh out of the garden, catnip is a great kitty high. What’s important is the essential oil that permeates the plant. Just a few sniffs makes cats euphoric. Crush the fresh leaves and stems or rub the dried nip between your hands to bring out the oils. Like many herbs, catnip does well in poor soil and good sunlight, so it is easy to grow. Don’t water it too much and pinch back the leaves to keep it bushy (do share your pinchings with your kitties). And remember to fence it off or place it somewhere where it won’t be enthusiastically demolished by the neighborhood cats!
Dried catnip should always be stored in a dark container or a cupboard — light will degrade the essential oils. Even better, store it in your freezer. It will stay fresher longer — plus the chances of your cat finding the stash will be practically nil.
If you are wondering about catmint, it is related to catnip, but it’s a completely different plant, Nepeta faasseni. Many cats will eat and enjoy catmint, but it does not have the same stimulating effect as catnip.
Actinidia polygama, better known as silver vine, is a longtime favorite with cats and their people in Asia. It has only begun to find its way into the paws of Western felines in the past few years. Silver vine may be an even more intense high than catnip (although since your cat can’t tell you, who’s to know for sure?). Cats in Asian countries are given leaves and stems fresh from the garden to lick and roll around on. In the U.S. and Europe, silver vine is usually found as a light brown powder that is quite powerful. Just a pinch sprinkled on a washcloth, cardboard scratcher or plush cat toy will send your kitty into throes of ecstasy. Cat toys laced with silver vine are also making their way into the marketplace.
Cats love valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) with a devoted, drooling passion that will only be matched by your own revulsion to it, because valerian root has a most repugnant scent. Think of your brother’s stinkiest stale gym socks — it is that kind of bad. I have some valerian root, which I give my cats in small doses on special occasions. The rest of the time, the stash sits in my well-ventilated enclosed patio, where its odor won’t permeate the house. You might be able to keep some inside if you put it in an airtight, hard plastic container — mine is in a baggie, and the cats know when I bring it in. The active ingredient is actinidine (which is also contained in silver vine), and just a couple of small chunks of this root will suffice in getting your cat very stoned. Curiously, while valerian has a stimulating effect on cats, humans have used it as a natural sleep enhancer and muscle relaxant.
You can find valerian-laced cat toys from independent craftspeople. Do a search on Etsy.com or another site like it, and chances are you will locate several toymakers.
If your cat is one of the 30 percent that is indifferent to catnip, honeysuckle is worth a try, since it tends to affect cats that don’t care for the nip. I had no idea honeysuckle was a cat intoxicant until I began seeing small fleece toys containing honeysuckle shavings at cat shows. Not every type of honeysuckle has an intoxicating effect on cats. It’s the woody part of one specific plant, Lonicera Tatarica, that lures cats into its potent grip. The berries of the plant, however, are poisonous, so it is best to get your honeysuckle from a reputable source, and even better to have the wood shavings, sticks or sawdust encased in a cat toy. If the effect starts to diminish, wet down the toy — water revives the scent.
Like juvenile delinquents, cats tends to search out cheap and easily obtained highs, so don’t be surprised if you find your cat huffing something she has picked up around the house, such as a dirty sock or a recently worn shoe (maybe that’s the valerian effect). Or sometimes they will get stoned on something completely puzzling — once I brought home a new yoga strap that Sparkle gleefully whiffed. If you find your cat rolling around with a piece of clothing, paper or herb, make sure it is safe for her to lick and chew on. If it is, then what’s the harm? Let her live it up!
Read more on stuff to make your cat happy:
About the author: How does someone go from a respected rock journalist to a blogging cat’s underling? Don’t ask Janiss Garza — she’s been there and done that and is as confused as you. All she knows is that one day she was helping Lemmy Kilmister of Mot├Ârhead pen his autobiography and the next she was assisting her feisty Somali feline, Sparkle the Designer Cat, on her books and her blog at www.sparklecat.com — and without any credit! Fortunately she still sometimes manages to write under her own byline. She also has her own indie publishing company, FitCat, in which she nurtures other writers’ talent.