Last updated April 24th, 2020
Tartarian honeysuckle is another great way to enhance your cat’s olfactory enrichment experience. If your cat gives catnip the cold shoulder, spoil your cat with some Tartarian honeysuckle which has similar effects to catnip.
He watches from the sidelines as his friends roll around doing the familiar and much-loved catnip dance of ecstasy. “Some cats have all the luck” he ponders as he yawns and walks away disinterested.George, the Teetotaler of the Chirpy Cats
There’s always one cat in every multi-cat household that is immune to the effects of catnip. With only roughly 70% of cats responding to catnip, how do we cater to the other approximately 30% of cats feeling shut out of the party? Luckily for these cats with a bad case of FOMO, there is another way they can experience a similar frenzy of ecstasy. Tartarian honeysuckle wood may just be the cat stimulant your cat was missing out on all along.
Why providing olfactory enrichment for your cats is vital
Here at the Chirpy Cats house, we get quite excited about cat enrichment in all its forms. From clicker training, food puzzle games, providing vertical spaces to ‘perch,’ hidey holes to ‘cave,’ we’re fully invested with all four paws! These cat enrichment activities and platforms allow our cats to express their natural behaviors to feel safe, reduce tension and maintain harmony which is important to their overall mental and physical well-being.
But let us explore what scent means in a cat’s world. A cat’s olfactory system is highly developed and complex and scent is at the forefront of the way in which cats communicate with each other and with us too. We all know the familiar Flehman response when a cat makes a derpy face, often smelling scents us humans cannot smell. Cats have about 200 million scent receptors compared to humans who only have 5 million. Imagine all the stimuli cats take in on any given day, it would be a shame to ignore this complex bundle of feline olfactory talent. Cats’ noses are powerhouses of scent receptors and hence, it’s important to provide stimulating scents that cats would normally encounter in their natural habitat outdoors.
Being a multi-cat household, we cannot slack on our cats’ enrichment needs, especially during winter when access to the catio is limited in freezing temperatures. After a three or four-month-long winter our cats probably succumb to a little cabin fever and providing olfactory enrichment in the form of a stimulating mood booster is welcome, if not vital to our cat’s mental sanity! It makes sense that olfactory enrichment should play an integral role in providing mental stimulation for our cats. This is especially true for indoor-only cats.
Winter is a time when I like to bring the outdoors indoors, in the form of natural objects such as vine wreaths, catnip stems, and setting up an indoor cat salad bar. And now I am adding honeysuckle wood pieces to that list too.
Wait… what? Honeysuckle for cat enrichment? But why would my cats care and where can I get it from?
What exactly is Tartarian Honeysuckle?
Out of over 25 species of honeysuckle, Tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera Tartarica) is the only species that seems to have an entrancing effect on cats. This bushy shrub was introduced to North America as an ornamental and can grow up to 10 feet tall. When I learned about its catnip-like effects on cats a few years ago, I thought it would be perfect to grow next to our catio. “Another recreational herb for my cats to drool over? Bring it on!” I thought. So in my quest to provide the ultimate cat enrichment lifestyle for my cats, I started my search to find honeysuckle. I visited my local garden centers asking about Lonicera Tartarica but to no avail. In my region, it’s considered an invasive species so it’s not encouraged to plant this in one’s backyard. There were a plethora of other honeysuckle species but not the one I wanted, or rather the one I thought my cats needed in their lives right now!
Then I stumbled upon Cat House Inc…
Cat House Inc. and the honeysuckle story
Cat House Inc. is a company based in Calgary, Canada and has been serving the cat-loving community in Calgary and beyond since 1991 with its wide selection of practical and whimsical cat products, including honeysuckle wood. Owners Joanne and Henry Wegiel pioneered honeysuckle wood as a safe alternative to catnip since 1991. In the backyard of their family home, Joanne observed how their cats would use the shrub as a scratching post. But the honeysuckle-loving cats’ antics didn’t stop there. When it was pruning time, the cats would exhibit behaviors similar to a catnip high, such as cheek rubbing, hugging, flopping, rolling over, licking and drooling, clearly attracted to some intoxicating scent from the honeysuckle wood. It made perfect sense to bring this wonderful honeysuckle sensory experience to other cats too and they sold tens of thousands of pieces to happy customers over the years.
When I contacted Joanne Wegiel she was delighted that I wanted to learn more about this wood and kindly included extra pieces in my package to try out on my own cats and others.
THE CAT HOUSE INC. was Canada’s largest cat specialty retail store for over 24 years until it was sadly destroyed by fire in 2015. But fortunately for us cat lovers, they are still in operation selling exclusively online and specializing in their high-quality honeysuckle wood products. You can choose from honeysuckle wood slices, sticks, larger honeysuckle posts, wood slabs, and pouches for your cats to explore and discover their preferred honeysuckle ‘groove.’
“We start by selecting premium branches and slow drying them for at least a year. We then sort, trim and clean the wood to ensure that we set and maintain the highest standards for our customers and their cats.”The Cat House Inc.
Joanne and Henry are passionate about animal welfare and believe in giving back to their community and support a number of Calgary-based animal rescue organizations. They can be proud, too, that their Tartarian honeysuckle contributed to a recent study carried out on 100 domestic cats to observe their responses to the compounds identified in honeysuckle, silver vine, valerian root, and catnip.
Scientific research on Honeysuckle for cat enrichment
Until very recently not much was known about which chemical compounds in plants are responsible for inducing a euphoric reaction in cats. But a 2017 study headed by microbiologist, Dr. Sebastiaan Bol Ph.D. who lives in San Antonio, Texas delves into a comparison of the responsiveness of domestic cats to catnip and its alternatives such as Tartarian honeysuckle, Valerian Root, and Silver Vine. Titled “Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria)” it’s the first-ever scientific research carried out on Tartarian honeysuckle and Valerian and published in the BMC Veterinary Research Journal.
I always get hyped about cat-related scientific studies carried out for the benefit of cats or promoting cats as having distinct needs within a home environment. Studies like these are important because they inevitably highlight cat environment enrichment as a vital component of cat guardianship, and not just something frivolous or secondary.
Shelter cats can benefit from honeysuckle too
The study concludes that Tartarian Honeysuckle is indeed a wonderful alternative for cats that do not respond to catnip. One of the interesting observations in the conclusion was that the scared or shy cats responded as often and as intensely to the various plant materials as did affectionate or friendly cats. This bodes well for those wallflower cats in shelters that might benefit greatly from a little honeysuckle ‘aromatherapy’ to bring them out of their shells and thus increasing their chances of being adopted.
How do cats react to Tartarian honeysuckle?
The first thing I noticed about our cats’ reaction to honeysuckle was that they exhibit the same trance-like motions they would generally experience with catnip. Cats roll their heads, lick the wood, rub their cheeks on it and do the typical catnip writhing-like-a-snake dance.
One difference though, is that the cats who normally become a little over-zealous on catnip, tend to be more zoned out and mellow on honeysuckle. Catnip tends to turn our Mr. Jack into a mean drunk, he goes around slapping his friend, Scout and they end up doing kitty jiu-jitsu on the floor. I usually have to separate these two during catnip ‘happy hour’ so that they can each enjoy their catnip trip in peace.
Honeysuckle, on the other hand, makes Mr. Jack calm and ‘zoned-out’, a much more ‘zen’ experience for all involved.
How to give Honeysuckle to your catThe surprise bucket
My cats usually like to rummage through their basket of toys and choose their favorites. Surprise them with a bucket of honeysuckle slices instead.The scratching post
This is a fun way for your cat to hug and scratch a bigger piece of honeysuckle wood.Individual slices
Sometimes a communal bucket display is not ideal with multiple cats and your cat might prefer to party by himself in his little corner. That’s okay too.Mix it up!
The mixed pouches of honeysuckle and catnip will definitely give your cat double the buzz! I recommend one for each cat to avoid scuffles. Or two, if you’re Charlie!
Tip: To prolong the effect of your honeysuckle wood you can sand or scrape the exposed inner wood surface. If the wood appears to have lost its scent (which can happen when it’s exposed to other smells over time) you can revive the scent by wetting it. We keep our honeysuckle sticks in a sealed bucket so the cats see it as a new treat each time.
Some Big cats and other wild cats also respond positively to honeysuckle. Watch Jua the serval at the Big Cat Sanctuary enjoying her new enrichment toy, a piece of honeysuckle wood.
Not all of our cats responded to the honeysuckle wood and some of them will always be dedicated ‘nip-heads.’
But if your cat is still thinking “Some cats have all the luck” don’t leave her out in the cold. Tickle your cat’s funny bone and get a few honeysuckle sticks for her to drool over and join the party.
You can purchase any of the honeysuckle products listed and pictured above directly from The Cat House Inc.
Has your cat altered his state of mind with Tartarian honeysuckle wood? If not, do you think you will give your nod of approval? Please chirp us a line in the comments below.
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