CATNIP ALTERNATIVE STUDY
Big Cat Rescue’s Research Director Lauren Buckingham recently assisted California scientist Sebastiaan Bol with his study on catnip alternatives using some of our big cats as test subjects.
Sebastiaan initially wanted to determine if house cats, who had no reaction to catnip would enjoy alternative plants, in an effort to enrich their lives. Catnip is well known for its pleasure inducing effect and everyone who has seen a cat rolling around with an overwhelming feeling of joyful excitement will understand that it is rather sad for those who don't like catnip to miss out. Approximately 1 out of 3 cats do not respond to catnip, most likely because the smell of the catnip does not trigger a reaction.
Silver vine is a plant that is believed to have similar effects to catnip and is very popular in Japan, however is not well known in the US, not even among feline veterinarians. Through the data collected in his study Sebastian was able to conclude that many domestic cats who do not respond to catnip, loved silver vine. The results of his study are due to be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal later this year.
In addition to social domestic cats, silver vine even interested shy and feral cats, and from this finding Sebastiaan hoped the catnip alternative would have practical applications in addition to the enrichment element. Some feral cats are notoriously difficult to capture for trap, neuter and release programs. Thus catnip and silver vine may be utilized to increase capture success, thereby preventing many kittens from being born and ending up in the shelters.
Following the findings in his domestic cat study, Sebastiaan was interested to know if silver vine would have a similar effect on big cats and so he contacted Big Cat Rescue. In the early 60's, Dr. Todd at Harvard University, completed a study that showed big cats love catnip too and expressed similar behaviors to domestic cats when in contact with it. However, while almost all of the leopards and lions used in the study showed behaviors such as rolling over, rubbing their heads, chin and cheeks on the plant material, tigers showed no interest. As silver vine proved to be a successful alternative for domestics who did not like catnip, it lead to wondering if it would be an alternative for tigers and a way for us to enrich our tigers here at the sanctuary.
Unfortunately after a few days of testing it was concluded that the tigers showed the complete opposite reaction than expected with a strong dislike of silver vine. Many not simply ignoring it but moving away in disgust.
Despite that finding, Lauren and Sebastiaan decided to offer the silver vine to other species to see if they had the same response as the tigers. Below are pictures that show their reaction and love of silver vine. Although they were not the initial target species, a new and exciting enrichment smell was found for the small cats.
We want to thank Sebastian for the time he spent here and look forward to his publication, which will include Big Cat Rescue, later in the year.