Rue (Ruta graveolens) is a herb that was referred to as a cat deterrent in the first century AD by the Roman author Pliny in his massive book Natural History. This deterrent has a very long and distinguished pedigree. Excuse the pun.
Not only did the Roman author Pliny mention it those many years ago, Dr. Desmond Morris, an author and zoologist who I admire, also refers to it in his book Catlore. And Dr. Morris tells us that this advice was “still being offered 1,200 years later, in the Middle Ages, when an expert on herb gardens wrote, ‘Behind the turf plot let there be a great diversity of medicinal and aromatic herbs, among which Rue should be mingled in many places for its beauty and greenness, and its bitterness will drive away poisonous animals from the garden'”.
Desmond Morris mentions that sometimes when handling the leaves of this plant it can cause a blistering rash on sensitive skin. That I guess should be noted but can be easily overcome by wearing gloves.
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It is a cat deterrent which is not mentioned an awful lot nowadays. It should be noted that anybody who wants to deter a neighbour’s cat from coming onto the garden should respect the cat and never harm them. And the same would apply to a cat owner who wants to restrict their cat from parts of their property. Regarding the latter, the better way to restrict the movement of cats is to do it through human intelligence and find other ways than hard deterrence.
Although this kind of deterrence doesn’t harm cats, you don’t really want to add something objectionable to a place which is the central and most important space for a domestic cat.
To continue; Dr. Desmond Morris states that when he put rue down on his carpet to test whether it deterred his cat, it did not. She simply sniffed it!
However, when he rubbed the leaves between his fingers “and offered her my fingertips to sniff, her reaction was dramatic. She brought her nose up to my hand, then leapt backwards, opened her mouth and tried to vomit.”
That is indeed dramatic. I think, in fact, that Dr. Desmond Morris was slightly upset with how effective it was because he had provided a very unpleasant experience to his cat companion who he loved.
His cat stalked off and refused to come near him afterwards. He washed his hands and tried to make peace with her. When he tried to stroke her, she hissed at him. But after 10 minutes she meowed when he approached but it took us several hours her to forgive him.
Based on that intimate story, I think that rue is worth a try for those who want to deter a domestic cat from a certain area on their property. And if you do try it, I would be appreciative if you shared your experience in a comment below.
Note: the deterrent effect may depend on the individual cat’s response which may vary considerably.
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