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Catnip May Give Your Cat Natural Bug-Spray

By: Amanda Yang

Cats are one of the most entertaining things on the internet. Whether it’s YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or even Reddit, cats are there. You’ve probably seen cats on catnip, too. They go into either a calm and playful, or aggressive and destructive mood. Well, when destroying catnip leaves, it turns out that a cat’s defenses against bugs and birds sharpen, making it so that your cat who just had a dose of catnip, will have a natural bug-repellent just by rolling around in catnip leaves.

When cats physically interact with the leaves, the crushed-up leaf will release compounds into the air, covering the cat. These compounds, called iridoids, will repel bugs and birds. It will also encourage the cat to keep rolling in the leaves, making it so that it effectively covers the cat in the natural bug repellent.

These ripped-up catnip leaves emit ten times the amount of iridoids than intact catnip leaves, making it so that some leaves emit more than 20 times more of the bug-repellent than un-ripped ones.

Masao Miyazaki, who works at Iwate University in Morioka, Japan, is a biologist that was part of an international team that analyzed catnip and silver vine. The silver vine is a plant common in Asia, and it brings cats much the same sense of happiness, excitement, and well-being that catnip does. Both plants, the silver vine and catnip, naturally produce iridoids. Those defense chemicals make the leaves taste terrible to insects.

Though Miyazaki is more of a dog person, with six border collies at home, he still finds cats’ interactions with catnip and silver vines interesting. The reason is that they are the only kinds of animals that use plants like catnip in this way.

The researchers presented cats with two dishes. One of them had intact, undamaged silver-vine leaves. The second dish had ripped-up and damaged leaves. The cats went straight for the bowl of damaged leaves. They played with them, rolling against the dish. This suggests that when a cat plays with the leaves, both the cat and plant get a bonus effect of bug-repellent.

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