Catnip Doubles As A Mosquito Repellent For Cats, New Study Says

Catnip is more than just a good time.

cat standing up looking at mosquito

You probably know that catnip can make most cats feel totally blissed out.

But a new study may have discovered another reason why your cat chews up catnip — getting rid of pesky mosquitoes.

Catnip and silver vine (a plant that has similar effects to catnip) contain compounds called iridoids, which have bug-repellent properties — sort of like a natural bug spray. Cats are known to roll around in and rub themselves on these plants, which transfers these substances to their fur.

Until now, researchers didn’t understand why cats also chew and eat these plants, since rubbing on them is enough to make your cat feed good. They theorized that the purpose of licking and chewing catnip and silver vine was to damage the leaves, and they set out to discover why cats do this.

Researchers found that when the leaves of catnip and silver vine get damaged by cats chewing them, they release greater amounts of iridoids. And when crushed, silver vine leaves produce a more complex mixture of different iridoids.

In this study, cats spent more time rubbing themselves on, licking and chewing leaves that were damaged, which means the plants that had the strongest bug-repellent properties were overall more desirable for cats. The damaged silver vine leaves also more effectively repelled mosquitoes at a lower concentration, meaning that cats needed fewer damaged leaves to repel bugs compared to intact leaves.

Basically, the researchers theorize that one reason why cats chew up catnip and silver vine leaves is to increase the amount of substances produced by the plants. This actually stimulates cats to spend more time rubbing themselves on the plants, which transfers more of the iridoids to their bodies. And the greater amount of iridoids released more effectively repels mosquitoes and other insects that are sensitive to iridoids.

While keeping bugs away is one potential reason that cats go crazy over these plants, more research needs to be done, and there are possibly other answers to explain this behavior.

The results of this particular study are useful for helping cat parents understand their cats’ behavior a bit better. Plus, this information could also be helpful for future research on bug repellents (but since more research needs to be done on the topic, it’s not recommended to use catnip as a bug spray for humans or cats).

“Our findings may lead to new clues to identify key plant enzymes … that may be usefully utilized as repellents against a broad range of pests, including mosquitoes,” the study concluded.

So not only are cats cute, but they could eventually help researchers discover more effective bug repellents, which is good news for everyone.