Smells Cats Hate: A Comprehensive Guide You Should Know

A cat’s sense of smell is critical to survival, especially since these creatures are hunters. They use their powerful noses to seek food, be comfortable in their environment, find mates, and detect danger.

So it’s but normal for a cat to find all kinds of odors— some it likes, some it hates.

The Nose Knows

A study shows that a cat’s ability to smell is at least 14 times better than that of humans. And why not, when they have 80 to 200 million olfactory receptors compared to a human’s only 5 million? It is even believed that a house cat can smell its carer from 4 miles away.

Because of this sensitivity, your tabby will react to various scents, even to pheromones. These are chemical substances that a cat produces to mark their territory, convey mating readiness, and even proclaim social hierarchy.

Pheromones are detected by a kitty’s specialized body part called the Jacobson's organ, or vomeronasal organ. This is located in the roof of their mouths behind their front teeth.

But beyond pheromones and human scents, their highly developed sense of smell can detect environmental odors, food aromas, chemical smells, and much more. Some of these they won’t mind, most they will.

Stinky Scents

Because the role of scents is pretty huge in a cat’s life and health, it’s important to identify which ones are helpful or not. Having unpleasant scents around the home could lead to your poor pet exhibiting stress, bad behavior, litter aversion, allergies, or worse, poisoning.

Here is a list of common scents you should avoid exposing your cat to.

Bad Smells to a Cat

Citrus fruits: lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits

Common food: coffee, chocolate, vinegar, bananas

Herbs: rosemary, thyme, mint, peppermint

Flowers: lavender, geranium, daffodils, rue, marigold, pennyroyal, coleus canina, lilies (especially pollen), azaleas, rhododendrons, oleander, autumn crocus or saffron, cyclamen, hyacinths, tulips

Other plants: sago palm, aloe vera, dumb cane, devil’s ivy, snake plant

Essential oils: eucalyptus, wintergreen, tea tree, lavender, pine

Spices: mustard, cinnamon, peppers, curry, chili, cinnamon

Chemicals: bleach, certain perfumes, medicine (even in cat medicine), acids, ethylene glycol or anti-freeze, and other household cleaners

Other animals’ scents: other cats’ urine, skunk musk, dogs

*substances in red are toxic to most cats, especially if ingested

Don’t fret too much as some of these toxic substances your cat already turns or runs away from. Don’t you notice your pet step out of the room every time you pour your morning coffee, turn its head if you offer it a banana, or avoid cuddling with you if you put on that new perfume?

Citrusy fruits and odiferous plants have the same effect. Many people can attest to cats’ aversion to places where they intently leave citrus peels or chili (like their favorite plants). It’s a technique gardeners use to ward off unwanted plant “destroyers”.

There are also flowers like the coleus canina— nicknamed “scaredy cat plant” for obvious reasons— that some cats find detestable. You may notice it has a scent similar to that of a skunk, an animal that cats (and us, too) find stinky as well.

Some smells aren’t just repulsive to cats but may be toxic. Substances containing spice and menthol are harmful to cats and may cause skin irritation on contact or stomach problems if ingested. Large amounts of toxic substances cause liver and kidney failure among kitties.

If annoying scents persist, your little furball may want to mask that unwanted scent. They may pee on those places to assert their territorial claim or dominance. (Does this solve a mystery you’ve been pondering on?)

It's also possible that your furry friend may show signs of fear or anxiety. This heightened awareness is caused by perceived danger because of the scents it hates. If the odor is similar to that of a predator, is unfamiliar, or is overpowering, cats can become wary and fearful.

Mind you, though, that some cats may like the scent of certain non-toxic substances such as lavenders or bananas. Since cats form associations with scents, their past experiences affect individual preferences.

Some Tips to Creating a Safe Home for Your Pet Cat

Despite all these substances, it’s possible to create a safe and comfortable home for your furry friend.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • overpowering scents are a no-no
  • avoid buying strongly scented litter, better to use unscented ones instead
  • keep their litter box clean especially if you have multiple cats
  • use the litter box count formula if you have multiple cats (1 box for every cat plus one)
  • put the oil diffuser away unless you’re sure the scents aren’t harmful to your pets
  • when in doubt about a product, don’t use it
  • give your cat some supervised outdoor time to get some fresh air

We’ve been talking about bad smells, but there are pleasant scents that will help reinforce your bond and help your furry friend settle in the space you provide for it.

Aside from the popular catnip, some substances produce stimulating and positive responses from cats. Among these are olives, valerian root, and silvervine. Valerian root is a popular sleep aid in humans but a euphoria inducer in cats. Silvervine, or cat powder, is more prevalent in Asia and has the same effect as catnip.

As carnivores, cats go meow for the smell of their favorite food, including dried fish, meat, or jerky. It also loves the scent it leaves on its supplies, such as beds, perches, and toys.

Finally, the most pleasant smell a cat loves is you. As its carer, you’re the one who gives your pet safety and sustenance. That’s about all it needs. If your cat is trying to relax, you can expect it in (other than its territory) places that smell like you the most like your bed or the sofa.

And since you also give it lots of affection, expect your feline friend to rub their face and body against you, roll over you, and purr.

What to Do When You Suspect Cat Poisoning

Aversion to substances and uncommon behavior are not the only indicators of a cat’s discomfort with bad smells. There might be other symptoms your pet is exhibiting, so be on the lookout for:

  • excess salivation
  • watery nose
  • coughing
  • wheezing, trouble breathing, or asthma attacks
  • vomiting
  • lack of appetite
  • skin abnormalities.

These are indicators that a cat might have ingested or smelled toxins. If this is the case, call your vet right away.