Is your Cat Obsessed With Mint? Here’s Why

black and white sylvester cat hiding behind green leaves

Last updated on July 19th, 2023 at 10:44 am

Have you noticed your cat obsessed with mint? You’re not alone! This strange behavior is not uncommon in cats. But why do cats seem to be so obsessed with mint?

Mint is in the same herb family as catnip and is thought to have similar properties that cats find attractive. Although mint does not contain nepetalactone like catnip does, it may still produce odors or compounds that cats find intriguing. Each cat has unique preferences, and the specific attraction to mint can vary among individuals.

In this article, we will explore how catnip and mint are the same and how they are different, as well as the potential reasons why cats might be attracted to mint. We will also delve into the safety of this fragrant herb. Read on to learn more about why your cat may be obsessed with mint!

Cats Have Heightened Senses

Cats are known for their exceptional senses of smell, which plays a significant role in their daily lives. Cats possess a remarkable number of olfactory receptors in their noses, far surpassing humans. While humans have around 5 million scent receptors, cats have an estimated 200 million. This abundance of receptors allows cats to detect odors that humans cannot.

Cats also have an additional organ called the Jacobson’s organ, or vomeronasal organ, located in the roof of their mouths. This organ helps them analyze and interpret certain scents in a more specialized manner.

Cats’ heightened senses of smell provides them with a more intricate perception of their environment. Given these sensory capabilities, it is not surprising that cats may show a strong attraction to certain scents, including mint, due to the unique chemical compounds present in such plants.

Mint and Catnip: The Connection

Catnip (botanical name Nepeta cataria) is a species of the genus Nepeta in the family Lamiaceae. Mint (botanical name Mentha piperita L. [peppermint] and Mentha spicata L. [spearmint] are species of the genus Mentha which is also in the family Lamiaceae.

So it’s no coincidence that some cats are attracted to mint. The connection between mint and catnip lies in their shared chemical compounds and their effects on cats.

Catnip contains a volatile chemical compound called nepetalactone, which is highly attractive and stimulating to cats. This compound is responsible for triggering the unique response seen in many cats when they come into contact with catnip.

While mint lacks nepetalactone, some cats may still exhibit mild interest or attraction to mint due to the presence of other aromatic oils in both plants. However, the effects are generally milder compared to catnip, and not all cats may show a response to mint.

cat cat is obsessed with mint - image of green peppermint sprigs growing in a white pot

Chemical Compounds In Mint That Attract Cats

While mint does not contain nepetalactone, it does contain other aromatic compounds that can elicit a mild attraction or interest in some cats. These compounds can contribute to cats’ fascination with mint to varying degrees.

Here are two key chemical compounds in mint that may attract cats:

Menthol

Menthol is a well-known compound found in various mint species, such as peppermint and spearmint. It has a distinct cooling sensation and a strong aroma. While humans appreciate the refreshing qualities of menthol, some cats may find its scent intriguing.

Limonene

Limonene is a terpene compound commonly found in citrus fruits but can also be present in mint plants, albeit at far lower amounts than menthol. While cats usually dislike citrusy scents, it is possible that the low levels of limonene combine with the other volatile oils found in the mint to create an odor that is attractive to certain cats.

It’s important to note that not all cats will exhibit a strong response to mint due to these compounds. Cats have individual preferences and sensitivities to different smells, and some may show minimal interest, while others may display more curiosity and exploration when exposed to the scent of mint.

Additionally, the concentration of these compounds may vary among different mint species and even within individual plants. This variability can also impact the level of attraction a particular cat may have towards mint.

My Cat Is Obsessed With Mint – Is It Safe?

Menthol

Menthol, the main volatile compound found in various mint plants, is generally considered safe for cats when used in small amounts or encountered through exposure to natural sources, such as mint leaves. However, in certain situations, menthol can be toxic to cats.

Concentration

The concentration of menthol plays a significant role in its potential toxicity to cats. In its natural form, as present in mint plants, the concentration of menthol is relatively low and typically not a cause for concern.

However, concentrated menthol products, such as essential oils or certain topical treatments may contain higher levels of menthol and can pose a risk.

Cats have a lower tolerance for menthol compared to humans and may be more susceptible to its toxic effects. If a cat ingests a significant amount of menthol, either by directly consuming concentrated menthol products or by consuming mint-flavored products containing high concentrations of menthol, it can lead to toxicity.

Highly concentrated menthol products can also be dangerous if applied to the skin of cats. The volatile compounds are easily absorbed through the skin. High concentrations of menthol in the air can also cause toxicities in cats.

Toxicity Symptoms

When cats are exposed to toxic levels of menthol, they may display various symptoms which may differ depending on the route of exposure. Symptoms of menthol toxicity include:

  • Gastrointestinal Distress: Vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain may occur.
  • Respiratory Issues: Menthol’s strong scent and cooling properties can irritate a cat’s respiratory system, leading to difficulty breathing, wheezing, or coughing.
  • Central Nervous System Effects: Ingesting large amounts of menthol can affect a cat’s central nervous system, leading to symptoms such as depression, lethargy, tremors, or even seizures.
  • Skin Irritation: Direct contact with concentrated menthol products, such as essential oils, can cause skin irritation or chemical burns if not properly diluted.
grey tabby cat in a tree hidden by leaves

Treatment

If you suspect that your cat has ingested a toxic amount of menthol or is displaying symptoms of menthol toxicity, it is crucial to seek immediate veterinary care.

The veterinarian will assess the cat’s condition, provide supportive care, and administer appropriate treatment to manage the symptoms and prevent further complications.

Prevention

To ensure your cat’s safety, it is recommended to keep concentrated menthol products, such as essential oils, out of their reach. Do not use any products containing menthol on cats unless they are specifically formulated and labeled for use in cats.

Concentrated Menthol Products

Common household items that contain high concentrations of menthol include:

  • Some topical pain relief products, such as muscle rubs or creams
  • Cough drops and lozenges
  • Vapor rubs
  • Certain oral care products such as toothpaste and mouthwash
  • Essential oils

Limonene

Like menthol, the amount of limonene found naturally in mint plants is safe for cats but can be toxic when highly concentrated. Cats may also come into contact with limonene naturally through the citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, or grapefruits.

In these natural forms, limonene is typically considered safe and not likely to cause harm to cats. Like menthol, though, it can be harmful in concentrated amounts such as in some essential oils.

In addition to essential oils, certain household products such as fragrances and cleaners can contain high concentrations of limonene.

Salicylates

One compound found in mint that we haven’t discussed yet is salicylates. Salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, is a salicylate. Cats lack the enzyme needed to metabolize salicylates and are therefore more sensitive to them.

Salicylates are found in a variety of mint species, including peppermint and spearmint, as well as some other plants. Even low concentrations of salicylates can be toxic to cats if ingested.

Fortunately, mint plants grown in the home are not generally high enough in salicylates to be toxic to cats – unless large amounts are ingested. But it is always important to be aware of what you’re bringing into your home.

orange and white tabby cat

Is Cat Mint The Same As Catnip?

Catnip and cat mint are not the same, although they are closely related and belong to the same plant family, which is the mint family (Lamiaceae). Here are the main differences between catnip and cat mint:

  1. Botanical Names: Catnip is scientifically known as Nepeta cataria, while cat mint refers to several species within the Nepeta genus, including Nepeta mussinii, Nepeta faassenii, and Nepeta x faassenii.
  2. Effect on Cats: Catnip is well-known for its effect on cats. The plant contains a compound called nepetalactone, which triggers a euphoric response in many cats, often leading to behaviors like rolling, rubbing, and increased activity. Cat mint, on the other hand, does not have the same intense effect on most cats, although some may still show mild interest or attraction.
  3. Cultivation: Catnip is the more commonly cultivated and available plant, specifically grown for its effect on cats. It is often used in toys, sprays, and treats for feline enrichment. Cat mint, on the other hand, is primarily grown as an ornamental plant in gardens, prized for its attractive flowers and foliage.
  4. Appearance: Both catnip and cat mint have similar-looking leaves and small, tubular flowers. However, catnip leaves are typically heart-shaped with a gray-green hue, while cat mint leaves can vary in shape and color, ranging from green to grayish-green.

While catnip and cat mint are not the same, they do share some similarities due to their close botanical relationship. Some people may refer to cat mint as catnip, which can lead to confusion. However, for most cats, the true catnip plant (Nepeta cataria) is the one that elicits the strong response.

Should I Discourage My Cat’s Mint Obsession?

Whether you should discourage your cat’s mint obsession depends on a few factors, including the specific behavior and the impact it has on your cat’s well-being.

Mint itself, in its natural form, is generally safe for cats when used appropriately and in moderation. If your cat is simply showing interest in mint leaves or plants without chomping through large amounts, it is generally safe to encourage their interaction with mint.

However, excessive consumption of mint leaves can potentially lead to digestive upset in cats. If your cat tends to overindulge, it may be necessary to moderate its access to mint and prevent its consumption.

Another thing to consider is whether your cat is attracted to all things minty. If it wants to eat your toothpaste, your mouthwash, your gum, or your essential oils, then these types of products can be very harmful to your cat. Keep these items out of its reach and discourage any interest in them.

Every cat is unique, and their preferences can vary. Some cats may have a strong affinity for mint, while others may show little interest. It’s important to observe your cat’s behavior, monitor their well-being, and make decisions based on their individual needs and preferences.

Ultimately, striking a balance between allowing your cat to engage in their mint obsession within safe limits is ideal. If you have concerns about your cat’s behavior or health related to its mint obsession, it’s always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian or a qualified animal behaviorist for guidance specific to your cat’s situation.

Bottom Line

Mint in its natural plant form is generally considered safe for cats in small amounts. However, concentrated products can be toxic if ingested or applied topically.

If your cat is obsessed with mint, it’s important to observe their behavior, monitor their health, and adjust access to mint as needed. If you have any concerns, it’s best to seek the advice of a veterinarian or qualified animal behaviorist for guidance specific to your cat’s situation.

At the end of the day, cats are curious creatures and may show an affinity for mint. If handled safely and appropriately, your cat can still enjoy their mint obsession without any harm. Happy sniffing!

Disclaimer: This article is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult your veterinarian if you have specific concerns about your pet’s health.

grey and white cat peeking out between green leaves

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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