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Every cat lover knows that most kitties (about 70 to 80%) are crazy about catnip. The plant’s 200-plus different species all come from the same family as mint and include a chemical called nepetalactone, which scientists believe mimics a feline pheromone. The scent triggers a chemical reaction in a cat’s brain and results in a range of strange behaviors.
Research suggests that Nepeta cataria has benefits beyond its familiar euphoric effects. The plant is useful for pets and their people thanks to its natural mosquito-repelling qualities. Back in 2001, a team of scientists determined that nepetalactone is around ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET, the crucial chemical compound found in most of the bug sprays you’ll find in stores. Your cat’s favorite plant may help keep them safe from mosquito bites this summer.
Catnip: Your Feline’s Favorite Plant
When your cat consumes catnip, you may notice a number of behavioral changes. Pets who are “high” on the chemicals found in catnip tend to exhibit behaviors like these:
- Rolling on the ground
- Rubbing paws and body on surfaces
Catnip is more likely to act as a stimulant for cats who ingest it through their nostrils. Cats who eat catnip whole generally experience effects more often associated with depressive substances. Expect reactions of every sort to prove short lived, lasting for around ten minutes before gradually wearing off. Though the majority of cats experience at least some type of reaction when they’re exposed to nepetalactone, no cats are susceptible to the plant until they’ve reached maturity around six months of age.
It’s technically possible for cats to overdose on catnip, but there’s no need to worry about deadly reactions. At worst, cats who’ve ingested too much catnip will experience side effects like vomiting, diarrhea, and a temporary loss of coordination. Since the plant can lose its potency over time, the Humane Society recommends keeping the herb in an airtight container. For extra protection, you can’t go wrong storing it in the refrigerator or freezer.
Catnip and Mosquitoes
Earlier this year, researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Lund got to the bottom of catnip’s mosquito-thwarting powers. The herb activates a receptor known as TRPA1 that keeps mosquitoes away from cats. Foods like wasabi and garlic also activate this receptor and share some of catnip’s anti-pest qualities.
The team, who published their findings in Current Biology, believe their work could help lead to the development of better insect-fighting compounds. DEET-based products are effective in killing mosquitoes, but they have the additional, often negative, effect of harming other bugs. Products using catnip or other TRPA1 triggers may offer all of the upside without potentially harmful ripple effects.
Does this mean that you should spray on catnip before heading out for a trek in the woods? No. Experts suggest sticking with more traditional pest-prevention methods to keep bloodsucking bugs at bay. Even big cats may perk up at a whiff of catnip. If you’re hiking through a region where mountain lions, cougars, and other wild cats are common, that catnip-based repellant could attract far more dangerous critters than mosquitoes.
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