When Cookie & Pippin travelled with me all the way from Birmingham to Prague, one of the things I used to ease the travel anxiety in them was a calming spray with valerian extract in it. It has an incredible calming effect on cats. But so does catnip. So why did I choose valerian over catnip? And do you need to have both sprays on hand as a cat owner?
What’s the difference between catnip and valerian?
Catnip, the more known of the two, is a extracted from a plant called Nepeta cataria. It’s essentially a herb that has a calming effect on about 50% of the cat population. No one knows why half of the cats don’t respond to catnip. They just don’t. Neither do kittens. They have to be a couple months old to be able to have a reaction to it. The chemicals in this herb (nepetalactones) have a similar effect on cats like cat pee does. Whether you use a spray, dried or fresh catnip, the cat starts rolling around, meowing a little, making strange pigeon noises and eventually it wears off (after a couple minutes) and the herb starts acting as a mild sedative. So your kitty probably falls asleep.
On the other hand, valerian is extracted from valerian root. It contains a chemical called actinidine which is a strong and long lasting cat (and rat) attractant. The chemical has a very similar effect on cats however its much more prominent and long lasting. This means your kitty will actually lose her or his mind over it, zooming around the room, doing back flips, eating their own foot, you name it. The effect can last for hours. Then again, valerian will act as a sedative and the cat falls asleep.
I shall note that both herbs are very safe to cats. Cats can easily digest catnip, both dried and fresh, and there are no or minimal side effects. Some cats get upset tummy or runny poo when they consume way too much. And it’s generally not recommended to overuse either plant. Use it about once a week not to exhilarate your pet too much.
Why (& how to) use catnip or valerian spray?
Catnip and valerian sprays are both very useful to have in your cat cabinet for various uses. Here’s just to name a few:
Playtime: Cats love toys filled with catnip and valerian. They can play with them for hours on end. One the toy gets a little older and the herb inside goes a little stale though, the charm wears off. Instead of throwing the toy away you can simply spritz it with a catnip or valerian spray (depending on how much spare time you have for the cat play, minutes or hours?).
Travelling: Both herbs eventually have a calming effect on cats. As I’ve already mentioned though, when we were to travel some 20 hours by car, I picked valerian over catnip. The chemical in it is much stronger and the effect doesn’t wear off so quickly. You can even get calming valerian treats for cats.
Weight loss: Is your beautiful beloved chummy a little on the chubbier side? And there’s absolutely no way for him or her to move off the sofa and do some zoomies? Give them valerian. They’ll be trotting around the flat like you’ve never even imagined.
Relationships: Be it the relationship between you, a new family member, another pet or just another cat, introducing the herb to calm the situation might be a good choice. Always pick catnip first because valerian can make the cat aggressive and use just the tiniest amount to calm the anxiety rather than to induce playtime. Digesting catnip also makes it work faster as a sedative, so a pinch of dried catnip might be a good call here.
New toys, beds & scratchers: If your cat doesn’t like the look of a new (and surely very expensive) bed, a scratcher or a toy, just spritz a little catnip or valerian on it. Not too much so the cat doesn’t lick it obviously but a tiny spritz is perfectly fine.
Anxious, depressed cats: If your cat is moody, depressed or perhaps just stressed about going to the vets or getting brushed with a furminator brush, use a spritz of either spray on their favourite toy. It instantly improves their mood and they let you cuddle them too!
Valerian spray reeks. It actually smells so bad it might make you feel a little nauseous. So again – for yourself and the health of your cat, do not overuse either of these sprays. Once a week is the recommended dose. Also don’t spray neither of them directly on the cat or their food, that’s just a no no. One last piece of advice would be do not pick up a cat that’s on catnip or valerian. They are like little spaghetti that can twist from your arms and fall. Or even worse they can take you for a play mate and scratch you or bite you in the face (been there, done that).
You can get both sprays – catnip and valerian – on Zooplus (UK) and its Czech alternative Zoohit (CZ) – catnip and valerian. They are each about £5 for a big bottle (175ml) but are often on offer for half price.
If you know of a more organic version perhaps sold in a glass bottle, I’d be very much interested. So far I have not found anywhere that would sell it!