What odors do cats dislike, and why should you care? Understanding which smells cats hate can have practical applications in the real world. For instance, if you’re trying to keep cats out of your garden, you’ll want to know which odiferous plants might ward them off. And if your cat is bothering your furniture (or even your Christmas tree), you might try spritzing the problem area with an odor that is unpleasant to him.
Do cats have a good sense of smell?
You might be surprised to learn just how powerful your cat’s sense of smell is—14 to 40 times stronger than a human’s, by some estimates. Because cats often experience odors more intensely than people do, they don’t perceive scents (good or bad) the same way. Let’s learn more about which smells cats hate.
Surprising smells cats hate
Not all cats will dislike these scents, but many of them do. Although some of these odors can be dispensed as essential oils, we don’t recommend using this method to deter your cat from certain rooms. Why? Because many essential oils are known to be toxic to cats.
Citrus: orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit
Citrus smells are widely reported as being repugnant to cats. You can use this to your advantage by throwing orange peels around your garden to keep cats away or spritzing a citrus scent on indoor fabric that you don’t want your cat scratching up. Citrus fruits are considered edible for cats (although most of them probably won’t be interested), but the skins and plant material may cause vomiting, diarrhea, or dermatitis.
Lavender, geranium, and eucalyptus
Some gardeners use lavender plants to deter deer, but you can also try this as a deterrent for felines. Likewise, geranium and eucalyptus plants give off an odor that cats dislike. Keep in mind that lavender, geranium, and eucalyptus are all somewhat toxic to cats; if ingested, they can cause excess salivation, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, depression, or dermatitis.
Rosemary, thyme, and rue
Cats certainly turn their noses up at certain common herbs, including rosemary, rue, and thyme. Rosemary and thyme are typically harmless to cats, while rue may cause a negative reaction (as it can in humans, as well).
Banana and mustard
While cats can eat banana and mustard (a winning combination, no?), they probably won’t want to. These common kitchen finds give off distinct odors that cats don’t particularly care for.
Pepper, curry, and cinnamon
Strong spicy aromas like pepper, curry, and cinnamon also tend to ward off cats. However, we do not recommend using cayenne pepper or other pepper flakes to keep cats out of the garden, as this could potentially harm them. Cinnamon is non-toxic to cats.
Mint, wintergreen, and menthol
More smells cats hate include mint and strong mint-related odors, such as wintergreen and menthol. This may be for good reason, as ingesting mint and its relatives can cause vomiting and diarrhea in cats.
Keep in mind that your cat may be put off by certain natural cat litter containing pine material. Cats generally prefer unscented clumping litter to do their business.
Not-so-surprising smells cats hate
There are certain odors that cats and people alike despise.
Dirty litter box
Cats are fastidious creatures, which means they hate using a dirty litter box as much as you hate smelling one. If you have multiple cats in the house, you may run into even more issues with a dirty litter box. Some cats can be extremely territorial, so smelling another cat’s waste in the litter box might deter them right out of the box—and onto the rug instead. Never scoop again and give your cat a clean bed of litter every time with a self-cleaning litter box like Litter-Robot 4! If you have a traditional litter box, you can eliminate litter box odors altogether using OdorTrap™, which uses plant-based oils to attract, attach to, and destroy odor molecules with natural chemistry.
Skunk, or coleus canina
Cats instinctively know to beware the potent spray of a skunk. Coleus canina, also known as the “scaredy cat plant,” gives off a distinctive skunk smell and is also a dog repellent. You might try planting these in your garden to keep cats away—if you can stomach the smell yourself.
Another surprise: Big cats’ love of perfume
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we learned a delightful fact about big cats: They love the smell of perfumes! In recent years, zookeepers at Banham Zoo in the UK put out a call for old or unwanted perfumes, which are sprayed in big cats’ enclosures as part of their positive enrichment programs. In particular, the big kitties seem to love Calvin Klein perfume. Check out the video below!
While a love for perfume hasn’t been tested on domestic cats, you may want to try a little experiment of your own at home! (Just don’t spray perfume directly on cats, of course.)