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Smells Cats Hate: 7 Scents They Dislike & Why

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

orange cat smelling something

Cats might not have the fantastic sense of smell that some dog breeds do, but they are still far better sniffers than we are! Their sense of smell is likely about 14 times stronger than the average person’s, thanks to their power scent receptors.

Therefore, they are much more sensitive to smells than we are. We may hate the smell of dirty trash and burnt eggs, but our cats hate those smells just as much, if not more!

Due to their super-human olfactory system, cats also dislike some smells that we may find appealing. We don’t think twice about many of these scents, but our felines hate them.

The 7 Smells Cats Don’t Like

1. Citrus

citrus fruits
Image Credit: Obodai26, Pixabay

Cats (and most animals) hate the smell of citrus. The robust and acidic smell is a massive turn-off for felines. It doesn’t matter what citrus fruit it is, either. Limes, lemons, grapefruits, and oranges are all a no-go.

However, there is an evolutionary reason for this. In large amounts, the oils that make the citrus smell are toxic for cats. Therefore, they have evolved to stay away from it.

Citrus-scented cleaning products are all the rage among humans, but your cat likely won’t appreciate these smelly products. Air fresheners and candles are other likely sources of citrus smell – besides the fruit itself, of course.

You can use citrus peels as a natural cat deterrent in your garden. They’re that programmed to stay away from the smell.

2. Essential Oils

selection of essential oils on table
Image Credit: Madeleine Steinbach, Shutterstock

Many essential oils are too potent for our feline friends. In many cases, our cats may not dislike these oils in their natural concentrations. However, they do dislike them when the oils are concentrated.

Too many diffused essential oils in the air can even be toxic to your cat. They may be an essential part of your self-care routine, but your cat should probably skip on the diffuser.

3. House Plants

Image Credit: erwin nowak, Pixabay

There are many house plants that cats can’t stand. These plants can be carefully placed around the house to keep your cat from entering certain areas. You can also plant hardier ones outside to deter feral cats from entering your garden and other areas.

Many of these plants are significant natural cat deterrents, similar to citrus. However, you won’t need to continually re-bury the plants like orange peels!

Here’s a shortlist of common plants that cats usually don’t like:
  • Rue
  • Lavender
  • Marigolds
  • Pennyroyal
  • Coleus canina
  • Lemon thyme

4. Hot Peppers

chili peppers
Image Credit: Hans Braxmeier, Pixabay

Cats do not like chili peppers – though whether or not cats can taste the spice is up for debate!

Capsaicin is the molecule that makes chilis taste spicy. In large amounts, it is toxic to cats. They’ve evolved to stay away from it for this reason. Many will not eat spicy food if it contains this chemical. They’re biologically designed to stay away from them!

You can use chili powder as a natural deterrent for cats. It’s commonly used in houseplants if your cat won’t stay out of the dirt. It won’t hurt the plant, but your feline will hate the idea of getting close to it.

Capsaicin is likely irritating to cats if they get it in their eyes or nose as well.

Related Read: Can Cats Eat Jalapeños? What You Need to Know!

5. Vinegar

white vinegar on the wooden table top
Image Credit: focal point, Shutterstock

Okay – this is a smell that most people and cats hate. Vinegar has beneficial uses. You can use it in cooking, and it is even a helpful cleaning product. However, it is not lovely smelling in the least.

Vinegar is entirely non-toxic for cats and most other animals as well. However, felines do not like how it smells. Many pet parents use it to clean up urine stains, as the vinegar scent may deter cats from using that spot as a litter box again.

Sometimes, the vinegar encourages cats to mark, though. We don’t exactly know why some cats try to urinate on top of the smell and others don’t.

6. Coffee

coffee grinds in portafilter on white background
Image Credit: KATY TOMEI, Unsplash

Yep – cats hate coffee. It may be a soothing smell to us (likely because many associate the smell with relaxation), however, our felines hate it.

There are many reasons why this could be. Caffeine is toxic to felines, so it is possible that they evolved to dislike the scent. However, cats were not around coffee beans for much of their evolution, so this is likely a coincidence at best.

You can utilize used coffee grounds in your garden or areas that you don’t want your feline to go. However, cats can accidentally ingest coffee grounds while cleaning their paws, and coffee grounds can contain a decent amount of caffeine.

There are likely safer options out there. For instance, citrus fruit often smells more robust and isn’t as toxic to our felines.

7. Menthol

peppermint in a white vase
Image Credit: congerdesign, Pixabay

Cats try to avoid all sorts of menthol, likely because it is irritating to their nose and other senses. Many plants that contain natural menthol are poisonous to cats, including mint and other members of the same family.

You can plant mint in your garden to keep cats away. However, it is toxic, so it may not be the safest option.

You can plant mint indoors as well. It grows pretty well as a potted plant. Just be aware of its placement since your feline will likely avoid it.

Final Thoughts

Due to their heightened sense of smell, cats may avoid certain smells that we don’t think twice about.

Citrus is an excellent example of this. Many people love the smell of citrus. It’s why so many of our cleaning products are citrus-scented. But cats have evolved to dislike citrus and will avoid it.

You can use these natural deterrents to keep your cat away from specific areas. Many people bury citrus peels and coffee grounds in their garden to keep cats and other animals away since they hate the smell. You can also add plants like mint to your garden since cats will stay away from their scent as well.

At the same time, many of the smells cats don’t like come from toxic things. You shouldn’t spray essential oils to keep your cat out of certain areas – they can be potentially harmful when used in heavy amounts. For example, essential oils like lavender are incredibly toxic to cats.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: MariyaL, Shutterstock

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