Valerian, or Valerian officinalis, is a flowering plant which grows approximately 4 feet tall and, during the summer, blooms fragrant flowers in various shades of white and pink. While its flowers are beautiful, the medicinal value of the plant lies in its roots.
For humans, the dried root of valerian acts as a natural and non-habit-forming remedy for treating anxiety, insomnia, and other stress-related conditions. For pets, however, the plant has various applications and is particularly popular with cats. And while valerian is a superb solution for easing your cats stress as well as your own, the plant works more as a stimulant for our feline counterparts than a sedative.
Valerian acts as a cat attractant, similar to catnip (Nepeta cataria). And for those unfortunate felines that do not feel the effects of catnip, valerian may serve as an effective alternative. Some pet owners claim valerian to be the more potent of the two herbs.
Cats vary in their response to valerian; their reactions can include purring, kneading, and drooling. Some prefer to roll in the dried plant or even consume it, while others are content to lie beside valerian in the garden and chew its leaves. It is the smell of its leaves and roots that they most enjoy.
The attractant chemical in the plant is known as actinidine; actinidine binds at and activates the olfactory epithelium. The olfactory epithelium is an area of skin within your cat’s nasal cavity. This area is covered in receptors specialized for helping the brain to process smell. It is believed actinidine mimics the pheromone of cats, much like catnip, thus causing such effects. Your feline will most likely become excitable and kitten-like when introduced to the herb, oftentimes wrestling with and chewing on their new valerian-stuffed toy.
In fact, introducing your cat to valerian via new toys is one of the easiest and most successful methods. Toys containing dried valerian root are common, as well as those that have been treated with a valerian spray. Valerian can be bought as an extract, though cats tend to be highly sensitive to most extracts and oils, so such concentrates should be used sparingly. The most effective way is to either sprinkle the dried plant near a favored scratching post or bed directly, or else use it to fill a small cat toy.
What are some of the other benefits of valerian?
In an increasingly modern world, our stealthy companions must face many new sources of stress. Whether from the noise of living in a big city or by the commotion of family-life, cats confront stressors they aren’t naturally adept at handling. Moving and visits to the vet can also be made easier by the soothing effects of valerian.
Cats exhibit stress through a variety of behaviors such as irritability, loss of appetite, spraying, excessive meowing, and hiding. Valerian provides a bit of safe, natural fun for your feline, as well as yourself! But that isn’t the only way this plant can help your pet’s health.
Domestic cats, particularly indoor cats, have a tendency for weight gain. The excited, playful response triggered by valerian helps to promote exercise even in the old and overweight. What’s more, it can be used to promote curiosity when trying to present a new diet to your finicky feline.
Introducing your cat to a new scratching post can be tough, much less a new house! But in all situations, be it a new carrier or cat bed, dried valerian can help. You can sprinkle the dried herb directly onto their new cat tree or even toss their valerian-filled toy into the carrier to further encourage your feline’s curiosity.
However you chose to utilize the medicinal properties of valerian, you can do so with the confidence that you are relieving their stress in a safe and natural way.