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Smells Cats Hate: 14 Scents They Dislike & Why

Lorre Luther

By Lorre Luther

orange cat smelling something

Cats can smell at least 14 times better than people, and they often find scents and odors that are generally pleasing to humans overwhelming. The smells that cats usually despise fall into two categories: those that are too strong for their sensitive noses to tolerate and those associated with products and foods their bodies can’t digest.

While there are plenty of smells that can drive cats crazy, there are a few that regularly top the list of annoying odors. Keep reading to learn more about 14 smells cats dislike and why.

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The 14 Smells Cats Hate

1. Dirty Litter Box

clean cat litter box
Photo Credit: Guajillo studio, Shutterstock

Because cats have such keen senses of smell, many are particular about litter box smells. Some refuse to use litter boxes if they aren’t cleaned well or often enough to keep strong odors at bay.

Although several types of litter are on the market, all require daily attention to stay fresh. Urine and feces need to be scooped out daily with clumping litter. Non-clumping products require daily stirring and poop removal to keep clean but are good at absorbing urine smells.

2. Cinnamon

Some, but not all, cats have issues with the smell of cinnamon. While humans often associate the warm, rich scent of cinnamon with baked goods and rich curries, the smell is often too much for cats’ discerning noses. The spice comes from a tree that’s part of the same family as laurel and is produced from an inner layer of bark.

3. Pine

pine needles conifer cone tree
Photo Credit: zdenet, Pixabay

Some cats have strong feelings about the earthy scent of pine; it’s one of the reasons environmentally friendly pine cat litter can be difficult for some cats to adjust to. Cats that despise the smell of pine are likely overwhelmed by the potent miasma the wood produces.

Cleaning products with pine sometimes sends cats running, and pine needles falling from trees during the holiday season can cause problems due to their sharp, pointy ends.

4. Vinegar

Vinegar has a pungent, unmistakable scent that can linger for quite a while. Many cats dislike the smell to the point that vinegar is sometimes touted as an effective cat deterrent.

Cats avoid vinegar in part because of its incredibly strong smell. Undiluted vinegar can cause stomach issues such as vomiting and diarrhea and can also result in oral irritation. It’s often used as a natural cleaner partly because of its antimicrobial and fungal properties.

5. Coffee

Image Credit: skeeze, Pixabay

While many humans love the warm, rich smell of freshly brewed coffee, there’s a good chance your cat doesn’t share your opinion. They may have developed an aversion to the smell due to the fact that coffee contains plenty of caffeine. The compound that causes cats problems, methylxanthine, can also be found in chocolate, which can make cats ill.

6. Rosemary

Rosemary, also known as Rosmarinus officinalis, is another herb that sends cats running since they can’t tolerate the plant’s deep, rich, woody fragrance. Rosemary is commonly recommended to keep cats away from outdoor gardens. It grows naturally in areas around the Mediterranean and is used to add flavor to savory foods.

7. Bananas

sliced bananas in a ceramic bowl
Image Credit: Nanette Dreyer, Shutterstock

While bananas aren’t toxic to cats, many truly despise the smell of the fruit’s peels. Banana peels produce ethyl acetate, which is also found in tomatoes, mangoes, and apples.

Bananas are okay for most healthy adult cats to snack on occasionally as long as they’re enjoyed in moderation. Treats should make up no more than about 10% of a cat’s diet to ensure they don’t end up gaining weight, which can lead to severe health consequences.

8. Ammonia

Almost all cats find the odor of ammonia problematic. Ammonia is included in window, multi-surface, and bathroom cleaning products, and many carpet and stain removers feature it.

9. Lavender

Lavender Essential oil
Image Credit: grafvision, Shutterstock

Fragrant lavender is commonly added to personal care items such as shampoos, conditioners, and lotions, but many cats really can’t stand the smell of it. While lavender may benefit humans, including improving skin health and supporting restful sleep, it’s something cats should avoid since it can cause stomach problems when consumed in sufficient quantities.

Cats may have developed an aversion to the smell to keep them from being interested in nibbling on the toxic plant in the wild.

10. Peppermint

Peppermint has a strong, fresh scent, and it’s added to mint, toothpaste, and mouthwash. Many cats go out of their way to avoid items that smell like peppermint.

11. Citrus

citrus fruits
Image Credit: Obodai26, Pixabay

Cats dislike citrusy scents. The smell of oranges, lemons, and grapefruits irritates most cats. The skins and leaves of oranges, lemons, and other citrus products contain oils and psoralens that can make cats ill.

12. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus’ strong menthol-like scent is high on the list of smells cats can’t stand. It’s commonly added to cough syrups, throat lozenges, and skin care products. Eucalyptus trees are native to a few places in the southern hemisphere, including Tasmania and Australia.

There are hundreds of trees and bushes in the genus, and they’re members of the myrtle family. Eucalyptus trees and shrubs are toxic to cats.

13. Cedar

cedar chips
Image Credit: ELAKSHI CREATIVE BUSINESS, Shutterstock

Many cats avoid the strong smell of cedar, but some aren’t terribly bothered by it. They’re commonly used as Christmas trees. The intense smell of cedar is likely behind most cats’ avoidance of the odor, but some cedar trees can also make cats sick. True cedars are evergreen conifers, but there are several similar trees that are often referred to using the term.

14. Onions

Cats generally despise the smell of onions, which makes sense since the odor is strong enough to cause most humans to tear up, and they’re off-limits for cats! Onions are members of the Allium family, which also contains garlic and leeks. Garlic is more problematic than onions, and dried products are concentrated and incredibly strong.

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Because cats have such exquisitely sensitive noses, it’s no surprise that some smells can irritate them. Several odors, from dirty litter boxes to peppermint, have the power to deter cats. Cats avoid extremely strong smells that overwhelm them, and many plants and products need to be stored away from cats since they’re toxic.

Featured Image Credit: MariyaL, Shutterstock

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