Can the popular cat stimulants catnip and silver vine be used as mosquito repellents? Scientists recently concluded that cats are attracted to these plants for more than just their euphoric effects. In fact, cats have probably been using catnip and silver vine as mosquito repellents for hundreds, if not thousands of years! Learn more below.
Reminder: What is catnip?
Catnip is a variety of the mint family that is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Catnip contains nepetalactone, an ingredient that acts as a stimulant on felines. It can also help relieve stress and anxiety in cats. You can purchase catnip in its loose, dried form, infused in catnip toys, as a spray, and more.
What is silver vine?
Silver vine is a species of kiwifruit that grows in the mountainous areas of Japan and China. In recent years, it has become a widely used alternative to catnip as a powerful cat stimulant.
While catnip contains one attractant ingredient, nepetalactone, silver vine also contains the ingredients nepetalactol and actinidine. These latter ingredients are typically more potent and more likely to elicit a response in your cat.
Are silver vine and catnip mosquito repellents? What science says
It sounds like an old wives’ tale: Does catnip repel mosquitoes?
Earlier this year, scientific journal Science Advances released a study that concluded that cats instinctually “anoint” themselves with silver vine and catnip to help protect themselves against mosquito bites. Isn’t that nifty!
How it works
First, you should know that catnip and silver vine’s chief ingredients—nepetalactol, actinidine, and nepetalactone—are iridoids, sometimes called “defense chemicals.”
If you’ve ever given your cat one of these stimulants, you’ve probably observed them rubbing their faces and heads against the catnip or silver vine, before rolling around on the ground in an apparent euphoric state. This rubbing behavior actually transfers the defense chemicals onto cats’ faces and heads, where it repels mosquitoes.
The study determined that silver vine’s nepetalactol ingredient acts as the most potent pest defense chemical.
How did scientists prove this was purposeful behavior?
For the study, the research group placed nepetalactol laboratory paper filters in 35 cat cages. Cats rubbed their faces and heads on the nepetalactol paper, where the substance was transferred to their faces and heads.
Professor Masao Miyazaki of Iwate University, a leader of the research project, explains that the scientists then “tested the mosquito repellent property of nepetalactol on cats. We counted the numbers of mosquitoes [Aedes albopictus] landing on cat heads with and without application of nepetalactol. The mosquitoes landed less on the nepetalactol heads. To see whether mosquitoes react the same in a more natural setting, we compared the mosquito reaction between cats that responded to silver vine leaves and nonresponsive cats. Mosquitoes avoided the responsive cats. From these results, we found that the cats’ reaction to silver vine is chemical defense against mosquitoes, and perhaps against viruses and parasitic insects. This was the most significant finding of our study.”
Why is this behavior important?
Cats are just as vulnerable to mosquito-borne diseases as humans are. For instance, heartworm disease in cats may not be as common as it in dogs, but it does arise—and there’s no good treatment for cats (unlike dogs).
So, can people use a silver vine or catnip mosquito repellent?
When it comes to mosquito repellents, catnip is thought to be as effective as synthetic insect repellents, including DEET. In fact, researchers recently reported that nepetalactone—the active ingredient in catnip—activates “the irritant receptor TRPA1 [on mosquitoes], an ancient pain receptor found in animals as diverse as flatworms, fruit flies, and humans.”
It isn’t as easy as rubbing some dried catnip or a catnip toy on yourself, though. To be an effective repellent, catnip should be concentrated as an essential oil.
Silver vine as a mosquito repellent for humans has been studied less—but perhaps that will change in light of the recent cat study!