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Why Do Cat Likes Icy Hot & Bengay? 3 Vet-Reviewed Reasons & Prevention Tips

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

By Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Bengay topical cream in boxes

Vet approved

Dr. Maja Platisa Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maja Platisa

In-House Veterinarian, DVM MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are funny creatures. They tend to do out-of-the-ordinary things on a regular basis, they prefer to do things on their own terms, and they like weird things like Icy Hot and Bengay. These two products don’t necessarily smell bad to humans, but they certainly aren’t as appealing as they seem to be for cats. The question is, why do cats like Icy Hot and Bengay so much? Let’s go over the reasons.

The 3 Reasons Why Your Cat Likes Icy Hot and Bengay

1. It’s All About the Menthol

Both Icy Hot and Bengay contain a high amount of menthol, which is obvious just by smelling it. Menthol is derived from the mint plant, and catnip is part of the mint family. If you’ve ever given catnip to your kitty, you might have seen them go wild for it. Many cats do the same thing over mint leaves. Cats like menthol, so they’re attracted to it in these plants. Therefore, when a cat smells Icy Hot or Bengay, they associate it with catnip, which is why many cats try to lick the product off their owner’s bodies.

The essential oil compound, present mainly in catnip and called nepetalactone, is the one responsible for this affection towards catnip seen in two-thirds of cats.1

mint plant
Image Credit: photosforyou, Pixabay

2. It’s a New Experience

Younger cats and kittens that have not yet been exposed to catnip or mint leaves might find exposure to Icy Hot and Bengay to be an interesting and appealing new experience, so they will investigate these topical solutions. They are simply inquisitive and reacting to their natural attraction to menthol that would be found in the wild. So, don’t expect a kitten to ignore the Icy Hot or Bengay that you rub on your knee just because they haven’t yet been exposed to plants that contain menthol or do not know what it smells like!

3. They Simply Like the Way That It Smells and Tastes

Even if your cat is not driven wild by catnip, they may still enjoy the smell and taste of Icy Hot and Bengay. It could just be the fact that you’re rubbing these products on your skin, and they want to explore the smell. Maybe they are curious about the way that it tastes. It could just be that it smells so different from anything else in the household.

cat rubbing its head against the owner's legs
Image by: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

Dangers of Icy Hot and Bengay

Even though Icy Hot and Bengay contain menthol that is not safe for cats depending on the concentration, the amount is usually quite small, and one lick of the product from your skin is unlikely to cause any major issues. However, if your cat would be licking you excessively or get hold of the cream, this would be a reason to contact your vet straight away for advice. Menthol is more of a concern in essential oils where it is used at a high concentration and often combined with other toxic substances.

There are also other ingredients in these two products that could cause harm if your cat licks enough of it. These products contain salicylates, which can be extremely harmful to a cat’s gastrointestinal tract, liver, and kidneys. If your cat continuously licks the Icy Hot and Bengay when you put it on your skin, there could be a chance that their digestive tract, liver, or kidneys will get damaged due to constant and chronic exposure, and you should always discourage them from doing it or keep your skin covered.

Other ingredients in these products that are also potentially toxic and harmful to your cat, depending on the amount, may involve capsaicin and camphor.

If your cat licks one of these products just once or only occasionally, there is likely nothing to be concerned about. However, you should be worried about your cat after they lick one of these products from your skin in excess, directly from the original packaging, or if they show any signs of stomach upset, lethargy, and reduced appetite. It is crucial to contact your veterinarian for professional guidance.

How to Keep Your Cat From Licking Icy Hot or Bengay

There are a few things that you can do to keep your cat from trying to lick the Icy Hot or Bengay that you put on your body for pain relief:

  • Always keep product lids tightly closed.
  • Never leave these products on tables where your cat can get to them.
  • Cover the area of your skin where you apply the product with a scarf, clothing, or piece of gauze.
  • Place your kitty in another room, and close the door until your Icy Hot or Bengay soaks in and no longer smells like menthol.

These options may or may not work for you, but the only way to know for sure is to try them so you can determine which is best for your specific situation. Either way, it is important to prevent your cat from licking something that may be harmful to their health.

A Quick Recap

It seems that many cats are attracted to Icy Hot and Bengay because it smells like catnip and mint leaves due to the contained menthol. It is not harmful to them if they sniff it, but if your cat licked icy hot, it could potentially be dangerous. If your cat does lick a small amount of Icy Hot or Bengay, keep an eye on them for signs of an upset stomach. If they lick a large amount or seem sick, it’s time to call a veterinarian.

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