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What Smells Do Cats Hate?

The Dodo logo The Dodo 12/7/2021 Lauren Taylor

Does your cat immediately leave the room when you light your holiday cinnamon-scented candle?

There’s a reason for that. Cats hate the smell of certain scents.

To find out what smells cats don’t like and why they don’t like them, The Dodo spoke to some experts.

Here are some scents your cat will definitely try to avoid:

Citrus

Cats don’t like the strong, acidic smell of citrus fruits, like lemons, limes and oranges. Since cats’ sense of smell is so strong, the sour scent of these fruits is too much for them.

Coffee

Cats typically don’t like the smell of coffee. “A more indoor-friendly scent that cats dislike is brewed coffee grounds,” Dorothea Hudson, a cat behavior expert with Pet Insurance U, told The Dodo.

Caffeine is toxic to cats, so it’s a good thing that your cat stays away from it.

Banana

Many cats don’t like bananas because of their distinct smell.

Strong and spicy scents

Cats don’t like scents that are too strong, like the smell of hot peppers or Altoids.

“Strong, biting smells, like pepper and cinnamon (both spicy) and mint or wintergreen, are repulsive to cats,” Hudson said.

Cats also hate vinegar because of the pungent smell.

And cats don’t like strong artificial scents either. “They also aren’t big fans of scented litters, heavy soaps, detergents, body sprays or perfumes,” Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinary journalist and veterinarian with Pumpkin Pet Insurance, told The Dodo.

So don’t be offended if your cat wants to stay away from you when you’re wearing perfume.

Herbs and plants

While some herbs, such as lavender, rosemary, rue and thyme, smell good to you, they don’t smell good to your cat.


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Essential oils

Essential oils (especially eucalyptus) are poisonous to cats, so it’s a good thing your cat will most likely want to avoid them.

“Cats usually avoid the smells of essential oils, which are also toxic for cats,” Dr. Brian Evans, clinical director of Dutch, told The Dodo.

Dirty litter box

Just like you don’t enjoy the smell of a dirty litter box, your cat doesn’t either.

“They also love the smell of a clean litter box and detest dirty litter boxes, and they inform you of their dislike of dirty boxes by urinating or defecating somewhere else in the house,” Dr. Wooten said.

So be sure to keep your cat’s litter box clean — for your cat’s benefit and yours.

Why do cats hate some smells?

A cat's nose is much more sensitive than a human’s. So if you think of a smell that seems strong to you, it’ll smell way stronger to your cat.

“There are some 200 million olfactory (smell) receptors in the nose of a cat, compared to 5 million in the nose of a human,” Dr. Wooten said.

Because cats’ sense of smell is so strong, harsh, spicy and acidic scents are way too much for their noses to handle.

A lot of these strong-smelling substances are also toxic to cats, so when they smell them, the scent is telling them to stay away.

“Cats use their noses to inform themselves about potential danger (predators or things that are toxic to them) and food,” Dr. Wooten said. “If they don’t like the smell of something, there is something within their brain that is telling them that particular scent is associated with something dangerous or undesirable.”

For example, capsaicin, the substance in peppers that makes them spicy, can cause mouth and skin irritation and stomach problems in cats, so cats want to stay away when they smell it.

But keep in mind that some cats can be attracted to toxic substances, like beer, so just because your cat likes the smell of a food doesn’t mean it’s safe for him to eat.

What smells do cats like?

If you want some cat-friendly air fresheners, there are certain smells that cats love.

“Cats love the smell of catnip, olives, non-citrus fruit for the most part and plants like honeysuckle,” Dr. Evans said.

A lot of cats like the scent of valerian root, “which induces a similar euphoria to catnip,” Hudson said. Valerian root is also an alternative for cats who aren’t affected by catnip.

Your cat may like the smell of your chamomile tea, too (and plain, non-caffeinated tea is safe for cats, so he can even have a sip). “Chamomile leaves also attract cats and calm them as well,” Hudson said. Chamomile has anti-anxiety properties for cats like it does for people, but ask your vet before giving your cat any because too much can be toxic.

How to use smells as a cat deterrent

If you know the kinds of smells that cats hate, you can use them as scent deterrents.

“You can utilize vinegar or citrus to deter cats from certain areas,” Dr. Evans said. For example, you can spray one of these scents on your couch to teach your cat not to scratch it.

And you don’t have to worry about a gross smell either. “The good news is that these aromas, [like cinnamon], are pleasing to humans,” Hudson said. “So you can reroute your cats with, for example, potent cinnamon sticks that also act as a homey air freshener.”

There are also sprays made specifically as deterrents that you can buy, like this one from Amazon for $16.99.

Just make sure that whatever you use as a deterrent isn’t toxic for cats so you can keep him safe.

So next time you’re wearing perfume or cologne, and your cat won’t come anywhere near you, you’ll know that it’s nothing personal!

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