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 5 million. So all those cells mean it is a good idea to know what smells do cats hate so you can have a happy feline.
Cats often rely more on their sense of smell than what they can actually see or touch when they are scoping out environments. And cats can detect a smell long after humans can smell nothing.
And did you know that cats actually have 2 senses of smell or 2 “noses”? Your cat has a nose with scent receptors as humans do.
However, they also have a vomeronasal organ in the roof of their mouth. This second nose is more attuned to pheromones.
- 1 What Smells do Cats Hate – How this can be helpful
- 2 13 Smells that Cats Don’t Like
- 2.1 1. Certain Herbs
- 2.2 2. Strong Citrus scents eg orange peels and includes grapefruit
- 2.3 3. Banana
- 2.4 4. Pepper, Curry, Mustard and Cinnamon.
- 2.5 5. Pine, Cedar, Wintergreen and Menthol
- 2.6 6. A dirty litter box
- 2.7 7. Many household cleaners
- 2.8 8. Old Fish
- 2.9 9. Soaps and Deoderants
- 2.10 10. Essential Oils
- 2.11 11. Eucalyptus
- 2.12 12. Other Cats
- 2.13 13. Tomatoes and Onions
- 3 So What Smells do Cats Like?
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 in guiding your cat’s behaviour. For example, if your cat loves sections of your garden too much sometimes planting certain herbs can help deter your cat from visiting.
If your cat likes to scratch surfaces of your home that you would prefer he didn’t, spraying the right type of scent may put him off doing this naturally rather than having to use cat repellant products that often contain chemicals.
Additionally, understanding which smells cats don’t like can help you to understand their behaviours and preferences. 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 whilst there are some scents that cats just don’t like there are also scents that cats don’t like which are also toxic for them. I will do my best to highlight toxicity as relevant in this post.
NB: If you are using scents to put your cat off certain behaviour 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 can 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 a territory has been marked by another cat.
Cats also relate to each other through smell. A kitten cannot open its eyes initially so will use smell to find and latch on to its mother.
Cats also show affection to each other and to their humans by rubbing their heads against each other and their humans. This adds pheromones and oils to “mark” their favourites.
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 male’s territory whilst emitting their own powerful sex pheromone which males 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
These include Rue, lavender, rosemary, mint, geranium, eucalyptus, pennyroyal, coleus and lemon thyme. The toxic herbs for cats include mint and lavender in oil form.
2. Strong Citrus scents eg orange peels and includes grapefruit
If your cat loves jumping onto your kitchen cabinets (as mine does) the strategic location of citrus fruits could be enough to put him off. When it comes to what smells do cats hate oranges, lemons and limes are high on the list.
Experts believe it is most likely the potassium in bananas that cats can smell and which then puts them off bananas.
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 personally like but my cat very much doesn’t. A small hit of their scent will usually send a cat running.
Wintergreen and menthol are toxic for cats.
6. A dirty litter box
If your cat’s litter box hasn’t been cleared or if has become full your cat will stop using it and find somewhere else to do its business.
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 which are common in many household cleaners mean that your cat will not like most cleaning products that you use in your home.
It is important to be sensitive to this when it comes to cleaning in your cats favourite areas and their key items. 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 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 your cat hates as much as you do. Do try to make sure that your food rubbish is covered.
9. Soaps and Deoderants
Just as with cleaning products smells, cats also don’t like 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!
So you may want to see what your kitty does and doesn’t like. But don’t 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. They can have a severe reaction.
Whilst they might not like the smell, just the aroma won’t hurt your cat. However, ingesting essential oil can definitely hurt your cat.
Bad news for our Australian readers in particular! Cats often dislike smells that are toxic to them – a natural form of protection. Eucalyptus can be harmful to cats.
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 in on their turf is something your kitty will definitely dislike.
13. Tomatoes and Onions
Onions can of course put off humans and/or make them cry. Tomatoes can often have a strong scent, particularly when still in the ground. Personally, I find it extremely pleasant but alas your cat won’t!
So What Smells do Cats Like?
Now that you’re up to speed with all the smells that your cat may not like how about some smells that they do 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!
Our favourite felines are very sensitive to smell – far more than we simplistic humans. Do use this knowledge to find natural ways to help your cat behave well and to keep it safe and happy.
⇒ Getting a new kitty? Check out my guide to How to Look after a Kitten, 6 Best Kitten Wet Food Options and 8 Best Kitten Dry Food Options
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