Cats have a very acute sense of smell. Having a keen sniffer may seem optional for a pampered pet kitty, but for feral cats and true wild cats, it is a vital part of avoiding danger.
Many cat owners want to learn about smells cats hate to know how to keep their feline family members off counters and tables or to control inappropriate elimination.
Even non-cat owners can benefit from learning about what smells cats hate, however. This is especially true if you have feral cats that regularly fight outside your bedroom window at night and wake you up!
In this article, learn about the pungent smells that may seem harmless to you but that cats absolutely hate.
What Smells Do Cats Hate
The top smells that cats hate to include citrus, pepper, mint, lavender (and many other herbs), artificial or natural perfume or cologne, many flower fragrances, coffee, and – no surprise here – the smell of a dirty litter box.
Top Seven Scents Cats Hate
This short YouTube video gives you a great introduction to seven of the top scents cats hate.
Some of the scents may truly surprise you. Why is it that cats seem to hate the very same smells humans often love the most? Read on to find out!
Just How Sensitive Is a Cat’s Nose
Over the last few years, there has been a running debate going on about whether dog noses or cat noses are more sensitive to odors.
This debate is primarily due to a 2017 research study that was published in the Applied Animal Science Journal.
The debate is twofold: one part focuses on the number of scent receptors of cat noses versus dog noses. And one part focuses on overall scent acuity – the ability to detect the greatest range of smells.
According to VCA Animal Hospital, cats may have as many as 200 million scent receptors in their noses, which puts them on par with dogs in scenting abilities but certainly not ahead.
It is in the area of scent acuity where cats are becoming the acknowledged leaders.
According to the journal study, cats have a greater concentration of a certain kind of scent receptor protein that can distinguish between even the subtlest categories of scents.
For comparison’s sake, your own nose has two copies of this protein. The average dog nose has nine copies. And cats have 30 copies!
So it just makes sense that not only do cats dislike certain categories of scents more than others (for example, citrus, and mint) but they will also shy away from all the related scents in each category, even the very subtlest of odors!
This is why cats reliably hate citrus of any kind – it isn’t just the smell of lemons. Cats also give a wide berth to orange, tangerine, grapefruit, and even household cleaning or air freshener products that feature synthetic versions of the same.
Why Do Cats Hate Certain Smells More Than Others
There are two key reasons that lead cats to avoid certain smells more than all the others.
Extra strong odors
As Cats Protection charity explains, a cat’s olfactory sense is much stronger than that of a human’s.
So a scent that smells pleasing to us can literally overpower a cat’s scent receptors.
This is one theory to explain why cats tend to reliably hate certain scents more than others.
But it does not give us the whole story.
Smells associated with toxic side effects
As Longtrail Veterinary Clinic highlights, cats also avoid scents that they associate with unpleasant side effects or adverse reactions.
For example, any cat that has ever eaten something like citrus peel or eucalyptus leaves won’t soon forget the gastrointestinal uproar this can cause. Wild protective instincts would catalog that scent as “toxic” and lead the animal to avoid it.
This also explains why cats hate a wide array of other strong-smelling aromatic herbs and oils. Mint and menthol, lavender, peppers, onions, cedar, pine, geranium – all are toxic for felines when eaten and overpowering to smell.
10 Categories of Smells Cats Truly Hate
Now that you understand more about just how keen a cat’s sense of smell is and what causes cats to avoid certain scents more than all the others, let’s move on to the main categories of smells cats hate.
Herbs are an important kitchen staple if you happen to enjoy cooking. But you may notice when you head to the garden to pluck some fresh herbs for dinner your cat is nowhere to be found.
Herbs can be so strongly scented they temporarily overpower your cat’s sense of smell, rendering them unable to scent other important odors such as the approach of a predator.
Spices like curries, peppers (especially cayenne), and cinnamon will have the same impact on your cat as herbs do.
3. Fresh scent cleaning products
Many commercial cleaning products, candles, and air fresheners feature synthetic or natural citrus additives.
This means that whether it is a human-made lemon-scented cleaner or a candle featuring grapefruit essential oil, your cat won’t be keen to go anywhere near it.
Speaking of citrus, all varietals are on the no-no list if you happen to be a feline.
Even non-citrus things that have citrus-type scents, like certain flowers and fragrances, will be enough to send your cat to the other side of the room or yard.
5. Spoiled fish
Earlier in this article, we mentioned how cats learn early in life to identify potentially toxic items and stay away from them. This is an important survival skill.
As obligate carnivores, cats have evolved to require a diet of pure animal protein. This is why the smell of stinky spoiled meat will repel your cat.
6. Stinky litter box
All experienced cat owners know how much cats like a clean litter box. If it stinks, your cat will find another place to go.
7. Coffee and tea grounds
Coffee and tea grounds are also overpoweringly strong to a cat’s sense of smell. Cats will avoid these novel and unpleasant odors.
8. Predator urine
If there is one item on this list that will make perfect sense, it is this one – predator urine is a strong warning signal to a cat to head in the other direction!
One of the big surprises to many cat owners is how much their cats seem to hate the smell of bananas.
As The Sun reports, researchers believe cats are put off not by the scent of the ripe fruit, but rather by the toxic compounds found in the peel.
10. Skunk (Coleus Canina)
You would be hard-pressed to find anything with a nose that likes the smell of skunk.
But you don’t have to invite a skunk into your yard to keep stray cats away.
You can plant the so-called skunk plant, coleus canina, which gives off a skunk-like odor that cats find offensive.
How to Use Smells Cats Hate
While you definitely don’t want to create an unlivable situation for your own cat, you can use your knowledge of smells that cats hate to keep neighborhood cats away from your home and yard.
You can also strategically use scents your own cat doesn’t like for training purposes