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Comparative Study
, 13 (1), 70

Responsiveness of Cats (Felidae) to Silver Vine (Actinidia Polygama), Tatarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera Tatarica), Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis) and Catnip (Nepeta Cataria)

Affiliations
Comparative Study

Responsiveness of Cats (Felidae) to Silver Vine (Actinidia Polygama), Tatarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera Tatarica), Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis) and Catnip (Nepeta Cataria)

Sebastiaan Bol et al. BMC Vet Res.

Abstract

Background: Olfactory stimulation is an often overlooked method of environmental enrichment for cats in captivity. The best known example of olfactory enrichment is the use of catnip, a plant that can cause an apparently euphoric reaction in domestic cats and most of the Pantherinae. It has long been known that some domestic cats and most tigers do not respond to catnip. Although many anecdotes exist of other plants with similar effects, data are lacking about the number of cats that respond to these plants, and if cats that do not respond to catnip respond to any of them. Furthermore, much is still unknown about which chemicals in these plants cause this response.

Methods: We tested catnip, silver vine, Tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root on 100 domestic cats and observed their response. Each cat was offered all four plant materials and a control, multiple times. Catnip and silver vine also were offered to nine tigers. The plant materials were analyzed by gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry to quantify concentrations of compounds believed to exert stimulating effects on cats.

Results: Nearly all domestic cats responded positively to olfactory enrichment. In agreement with previous studies, one out of every three cats did not respond to catnip. Almost 80% of the domestic cats responded to silver vine and about 50% to Tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root. Although cats predominantly responded to fruit galls of the silver vine plant, some also responded positively to its wood. Of the cats that did not respond to catnip, almost 75% did respond to silver vine and about one out of three to Tatarian honeysuckle. Unlike domestic cats, tigers were either not interested in silver vine or responded disapprovingly. The amount of nepetalactone was highest in catnip and only present at marginal levels in the other plants. Silver vine contained the highest concentrations of all other compounds tested.

Conclusions: Olfactory enrichment for cats may have great potential. Silver vine powder from dried fruit galls and catnip were most popular among domestic cats. Silver vine and Tatarian honeysuckle appear to be good alternatives to catnip for domestic cats that do not respond to catnip.

Keywords: Actinidine; Behavior; Iridomyrmecin; Isodihydronepetalactone; Nepetalactone; Olfaction; Pheromones; Plants; Tigers.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Compounds identified in catnip and silver vine known or believed to have a stimulating effect on cats
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Photographs of several of the plant materials used in this study. a Tatarian honeysuckle wood (10 cm long, weighing 15 g). b A dried silver vine fruit gall, also referred to as deformed fruit (2 cm long, weighing 1.5 g). c A dried normal silver vine fruit (2.5 cm long, weighing 0.5 g)
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Schematic overview of a typical exposure experiment for the domestic cats. This experiment was done for each cat. The different shapes (square, circle, triangle and diamond) represent the various plant materials the cats were exposed to. A negative control (not shown in the figure) was always offered together with each plant material. The wash-out period is represented by a tilde. The responses are an example; these are not results. On the first exposure day circle and triangle were removed from the cat as soon as a positive response was scored. This was done to prevent the cat from not responding to diamond because of loss of interest, fatigue or saturation to active compounds that also may be present in the plant materials the cat had already been exposed to during the experiment on this day. Square and diamond were offered first (in random order) on the second day the cat was tested, because no positive response was observed on the previous testing day. This was done for the same reasons as previously mentioned. Diamond was removed when the cat was scored positive for this sample. Triangle and circle were offered to the cat last (in random order), to try to confirm the results obtained on the first test day, and also to establish that the cat’s environment (e.g., noises, other cats present) and its physical and mental state were not preventing the cat from responding positively. This method was repeated on day 3: the sample to which the cat did not respond positively (square) was offered first, followed by samples to which the cat had already responded positively. In this example the cat would have been scored negative for square and positive for circle, triangle and diamond. Pos., positive; Neg., negative
Fig. 4
Fig. 4
The number of cats that responded to silver vine, catnip, Tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root. The response of the total study population to each plant material is shown in a different color. Significantly more cats responded positively to silver vine and catnip than to Tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root. Responses to silver vine were more intense than to catnip (P = 0.02)
Fig. 5
Fig. 5
Response patterns and alternatives to catnip. a Venn diagram (not drawn to scale) showing the overlap in responses to catnip, silver vine, Tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root. Ninety-five of the 100 cats tested were exposed to all four plant materials, of which 89 are included in this plot. The remaining six cats did not respond to any of the plant materials and are therefore not shown in this diagram. b Of the 31 cats that did not respond to catnip, 22 (71%) responded positively to silver vine, 10 (32%) to Tatarian honeysuckle and 6 (19%) to valerian root
Fig. 6
Fig. 6
Time each cat (represented by a circle) spent with a sock filled with dried normal silver vine (SV) fruit or dried silver vine fruit galls. The socks were offered simultaneously. Horizontal lines represent the medians. Note that the ordinate is a logarithmic scale, with the minor ticks denoting 5, 50 and 500 s
Fig. 7
Fig. 7
An eight year old female bobcat holding a paper bag with silver vine powder between her forelegs while she is rolling around and giving it chin and cheek rubs
Fig. 8
Fig. 8
Total ion chromatograms comparing the extracts of dried normal silver vine fruit (a) to the extracts of dried silver vine fruit galls (b). The normal fruit only contained marginal levels of actinidine (2) and isodihydronepetalactone (4) compared to the fruit galls. Relatively large amounts of actinidine (2), isodihydronepetalactone (4), iridomyrmecin (3) and its isomers (*) were present in the fruit galls. Note the higher concentrations of other lactones (min. ~25 to 30) in the fruit galls. Only a small quantity of cis-trans nepetalactone was detected in the fruit galls. 1, cis-trans nepetalactone; 2, actinidine; 3, iridomyrmecin; 4, isodihydronepetalactone; * different isodihydronepetalactone isomers; IS, internal standard
Fig. 9
Fig. 9
The absolute number and percentage of cats that responded positively to catnip in three previous studies [–11] (left). The pooled results from these three studies are similar to our findings (right)

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