Cats have a surprisingly powerful sense of smell. In fact, their sense of smell is considerably stronger than that of humans. A domestic cat’s sense of smell is between 9 and 16 times more powerful than yours, so it is worth knowing what smells do cats hate.
Or in other terms, cats have between 45 and 200 million odor-sensitive cells in their nose, whereas we humans have just five million. So all those cells mean it is a good idea to know what smells do cats not like so you can have a happy and friendly feline.
Cats often rely more on their sense of smell than what they can see or touch when scoping out environments. And cats can detect a scent long after humans can smell nothing.
And did you know that cats actually have two areas important for sensing stimuli associated with smells? Besides the nose they also have a special structure called a vomeronasal organ on the roof of their mouth which is more attuned to detecting pheromones.
What Smells do Cats Hate – How This Can Be Helpful
As much as we love our beautiful pussy cats, they tend to be curious souls and often want to explore or stay in areas that we don’t want them to – including those which can be harmful to their health.
Understanding which smells cats don’t like can help you guide your cat’s behavior. For example, if your cat loves sections of your garden too much, sometimes planting certain herbs can help keep your cat away.
If your cat likes to scratch surfaces of your home that you would prefer they didn’t, spraying the right type of scent may put them off doing this naturally rather than using cat-repellent products that often contain chemicals.
Additionally, understanding which smells cats can’t stand will help you to care for them. For example, when I first got a cat, I ordered some lavender-scented kitty litter as I thought that sounded lovely.
My cat refused to use it, and I couldn’t understand why until I found out that cats don’t like the smell of lavender.
And do remember that while there are some safe smells cats hate, there are also scents that cats don’t like, that are also toxic for them. I will do my best to highlight toxicity as relevant in this post.
NB: If you use scents to put your cat off certain behavior, do NOT use scents in their essential oils format. Many essential oils are known to be toxic to cats.
Why do Cats Have Such a Strong Sense of Smell?
This strong sense of smell is what has helped cats become outstanding hunters, as they could sniff prey from a long way off. However, this also means they can sniff cat food and treats from a long distance as well!
Male cats mark their territory with urine or pheromones from glands in their face and feet. They will sniff new territories to see if they can smell the markings of other cats – letting them know if another cat has marked a territory.
Cats also communicate with each other through scent. A kitten cannot open its eyes initially, so it will use smell to find and latch on to its mother.
Cats also show affection to each other and their humans by rubbing their faces against each other and their humans. This adds pheromones and oils to “mark” their favorites.
Butt-sniffing is a greeting in the cat community, whereas spraying is more about marking territory. And when it comes to mating, female cats can seek out males’ territory while emitting their own powerful sex pheromone, which male cats can detect.
This sensitivity to scent is perhaps another reason that cats so enjoy grooming themselves – imagine how much cleaner you would want to be if you could smell the slightest hint of an aroma you found unpleasant.
13 Smells that Cats Don’t Like
1. Certain Herbs
There are quite a few garden plants’ smells that deter cats. These include rue, lavender, rosemary, mint, geranium, pennyroyal, coleus, and lemon thyme.
The toxic herbs for cats include mint and lavender in oil form. They are also toxic as plants, and so is geranium.
You can read more about what to do in the event of your cat being poisoned in this article.
2. Strong Citrus Scents
If your cat loves jumping onto your kitchen cabinets (as mine does), the strategic location of citrus fruits could be enough to put them off. When it comes to what scents do cats hate, oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits are high on the list.
Another smell that your cat hates is banana. This is because of the ripening agents in bananas – ethene, as their senses detect it as a dangerous object. However, don’t stress if you love bananas; their smell is not toxic to your furry friends.
4. Pepper, Curry, Mustard and Cinnamon.
In general, cats don’t like spicy smells. They associate them with potential toxicity. So if you order a takeaway Indian meal, don’t be surprised if you see very little of your cat in the kitchen for a while!
5. Pine, Cedar, Wintergreen and Menthol
I tend to associate all of these scents with cleaning products that I like, but my cat very much doesn’t. A small hit of their scent will usually send a cat running.
Since these products are designed to have a lasting effect and odor, they can be too strong for your cat.
NB: Ingesting wintergreen and menthol is toxic for cats and causes vomiting and diarrhea.
If your cat ingests or comes into contact with something that you think might be harmful, contact your veterinarian straight away for advice. If your cat ingests a known poison, take them to your veterinarian immediately.
You can search for potentially harmful substances for your cat using this page.
6. A Dirty Litter Box
If your cat’s litter box hasn’t been cleared or has become full, it will stop using it and find somewhere else to do its business.
Due to their incredible sense of smell, the scent of their waste is very overwhelming. So to avoid them urinating on your carpet, bed, or sofa, it’s best to clean it up as soon as it gets full.
7. Many Household Cleaners
You may have noticed that quite a few of the items in this list are aromas that are very pleasant to humans and are often associated with cleaning products. These scents, plus the chemicals commonly found in many household cleaners, mean that your cat will not like most cleaning products that you use in your home.
When cleaning your cat’s favorite areas and key items, it is important to be sensitive to this. For example, I have been using baking soda at the bottom of my cat’s litter tray (I put the litter on top) in an effort to reduce the smell without upsetting him.
8. Old Fish
Like their humans, cats hate the smell of anything that has gone out of date. And we all know how much fish can smell once it starts to go off.
This is a smell that cats hate as much as you do. Do try to make sure that your food rubbish is covered.
9. Soaps and Deodorants
Just as with cleaning products’ scents, cats also hate soaps and deodorants. They don’t like anything that has a chemical smell, so don’t be surprised or offended if your cat leaves the room when you put on your deodorant.
I have been told that cats don’t like perfume – and I have also been told that cats can love perfume – and often premium brands! But never spray perfume directly onto them.
10. Essential Oils
Due to their concentrated form, cats tend to find the smell of essential oils far too strong for their sensitive little noses. Whilst they might not like the smell, just the aroma won’t hurt your cat as they will avoid the smell.
They can also have severe reactions, such as drooling, coughing, and difficulty breathing, especially if in an enclosed space with a diffuser. If this happens, you should move them into an area with fresh air.
Your cat will most likely be fine but observe their behavior. That said, the ingestion of essential oil is known to be very harmful for cats. If your cat comes into contact with essential oil, contact your veterinarian immediately. Don’t forget, that accidental ingestion of substances from the fur can occur during your cats grooming time.
Bad news for our Australian readers in particular! Eucalyptus is one of the scents that cats hate.
Cats often dislike smells that are toxic to them – a natural form of protection. Eucalyptus can be harmful to cats and can cause vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, and weakness if ingested.
12. Other Cats
Cats don’t like the smells of other cats that they don’t know. This is, of course, more about another cat coming into their territory – this is what they dislike rather than the cat’s particular aroma.
An unknown cat smell on their turf is something your kitty will definitely dislike.
13. Tomatoes, Onions, Chives and Garlic
Onions can, of course, make you cry. Tomatoes can also have a strong scent, particularly when still in the ground. Personally, I find it extremely pleasant, but alas, your cat won’t!
This is because tomatoes, especially unripe ones, onions, chives and garlic are toxic to cats. Once again, this is their survival skills kicking in – no wonder they have nine lives.
If your cat ingests any of the above, it’s best to take them to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
What Smells Do Cats Like?
Now that you’re up to speed with all the smells cats hate, how about some smells they love to help give your cat the best possible life?
Well, of course, there is catnip. Valerian root is also well, catnip to cats. Olive leaves can also have a somewhat narcotic effect on your cat that they will enjoy.
And your cat will most likely love your smell – particularly when it is, shall we say, at its extreme. Whenever I return from the gym, my cat is all over my runners, and sweaty socks go missing with an almost alarming frequency!
Final Thoughts on What Smells Don’t Cats Like
Our cats are such a wonderful addition to our life, whether they are sitting on your lap or following you around the house. They are curious, affectionate creatures and in order to give them the best life possible, it’s crucial to cater to their needs.
Cats are very sensitive to smell – far more than we simplistic humans. Use this knowledge to find natural ways to help your cat behave well and keep it safe and happy.
All in all, understanding what smells cats like and dislike makes us all better pet owners. In the end, isn’t that what life’s all about?
Meet the Veterinary Expert
Charlotte recently became a doctor and studied at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She’s volunteered in her university’s obstetrical clinic, and equine clinic, and is dog mum to 14-year-old Chiki. Charlotte loves to travel and has completed externships in Austria, Spain, and Belgium.
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