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Cat aggression induced by camphor and/or menthol?
An_220974 posted:
My 18 plus year old female cat who is in very good health, active and very affectionate has never bitten me in a hostile manner since I got her as a six week old kitten. There has been "play biting" when she would get too frisky while playing, i.e., no pressure exerted and immediate release, but never any aggression. Also, she was always unaffected by catnip.
I noticed a long time ago that products containing camphor or menthol would make her extremely aggressive, and I kept her away from them. Yesterdy I used some Gold Bond anti-itch lotion (which has a heavy concentration of both camphor and menthol). It had been years and I forgot about the effect on the cat. Well, she smelled it on my hand and went crazy, in full attack mode, ears back, encircling my arm with her front legs, claws fully extended, and bit down on the fleshy part of my palm creating two deep puncture wounds. She released when I yelled at her, and I ran to the sink and washed it off, fearing another attack. She was fine immediately afterwards, like nothing happened.Sweet as pie.
What the heck happened? Is there something in camphor and/or menthol that makes cats attack? If so, I would like to warn other cat owners about it because I have no doubt that my loving, laid back, sweetest cat in the world made a very aggressive unprovoked attack on the hand that feeds her. Is there a scientific explanation, and have others had this experience?
Bonnie Beaver, BS, DVM, MS responded:
Wow, I do hope your hand is doing well, although probably very sore. Camphor and/or menthol do not set off all cats like that. We don't know why an odor results in extreme aggression but most likely a specific odor is unpleasant to an individual and that is what triggers the aggression. We know cats are affected by smells that we are not (catnip as an example). We also know that cats tend to show extreme responses when they don't like something. Sounds like this is a situation where both came together in the one cat.

I have not heard of camphor or menthol as inducing aggression routinely in cats, so my guess is that this is an individual response.

Hope your hand heals quickly and completely.


William Draper, DVM, better known as "Dr. Will," is a well-known small animal practitioner in the Atlanta, GA area. He grew up in Inglewood,...More

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