Discover 10 Smells That Cats Absolutely Hate

feral cat/stray cat
© Katamount/Shutterstock.com

Written by Sarah Psaradelis

Updated: September 27, 2023

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Cats are quite sensitive to smells due to their incredibly sensitive noses. A cat’s highly developed sense of smell makes them able to detect many different smells that might not even be distinguishable to the average human.

You can use certain scents to repel cats away from areas that you don’t want them around, or you can avoid using those scents in your home knowing that your cat does not like them. In some cases, the smell can be bad for your cat, which is true for various essential oils that you might commonly use around the home.

While certain scents might be loved by your cat, this article will discuss the smells that cats hate, and why.

Smells That Cats Hate Infographic
Cats don’t like the smell of vinegar

How Good Is A Cats Sense of Smell?

Cats have an excellent sense of smell, more so than certain dog breeds and humans. This means that cats can distinguish smells much more accurately than dogs and humans, with around 200 to 300 million smell receptors located in their nasal passages. This is the same as some dog breeds and way more than humans who have an average of 5 to 6 million smell receptors. A cat’s heightened sense of smell allows them to navigate the world aside from just using its eyesight and excellent hearing.

Orange tabby cat

Cats have 200-300 million smell receptors in the nasal passage.

©iStock.com/Pijarn Jangsawang

The Vomeronasal Organ

Cats rely on their sense of smell from the moment they are born as they use it to locate their mother, siblings, and any potential danger. However, cats don’t only rely on their nose for smells, but a vomeronasal organ too.

This organ can be found between your cat’s palate and its nostrils. This explains why your cat may open their nose slightly when smelling something. The vomeronasal organ allows your cat to analyze different smells, and the ducts lead to your cat’s nose and mouth. With this organ, your cat can almost “taste” what they are smelling. It is part of their olfactory systems and plays an important role in how well your cat perceives different smells.

What Do Cats Need A Strong Sense of Smell for?

Aside from their sense of smell being essential for their survival as a species before domestication, cats rely on their excellent sense of smell for the following reasons:

  • To gather information about other cats through scent
  • Locate food, water, mates, and potential predators
  • Communication purposes
  • Navigate their environment
  • Detect other cats’ territories

Smells That Cats Hate

Your cat’s favorite smell might be a fresh tin of their food being opened. There are several smells that cats hate. These smells can have a repelling effect on cats, while others can be harmful to your cat to inhale.

1. Citrus

Dekopon orange

The smell of citrus is unpleasant to cats. This includes oranges, limes, and lemons.

©MERCURY studio/Shutterstock.com

The citrusy smell of lemons, limes, and oranges is often associated with freshness and alertness. However, for a cat, it is quite unpleasant. Most cats are put off by strong citrus scents, especially from the peels of the fruit and fragrances. It is not only the actual fruit that cats don’t like to smell but the artificial smell of synthetic citrus fragrances too.

This can be from your washing powder, a candle, an air freshening spray, or even your lotions. The smell of citrus can be quite overwhelming to your cat’s nose; therefore, they don’t seem to like it.

2. Lavender

Lavandula angustifolia

Lavender is typically associated with calmness, but for cats, it is far from a calming scent.

©iStock.com/ASIFE

The calming scent of lavender makes it a popular fragrance for many things, including some everyday items you might use around the home. While the smell of lavender might be relaxing and pleasant for you, it probably is not evoking the same feeling in your cat.

Cats seem to hate the smell of lavender since the strong scent can be too much for them. Lavender plants can also be used as a natural repellent in your garden for cats. Most cats won’t want to spend too much time in an area where the smell of lavender is overwhelming.

3. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus

The eucalyptus plant can actually make a cat feel worse and more stressed.

©iStock.com/Marina Denisenko

Eucalyptus is typically used for aromatherapy as an essential oil. The herb itself is commonly used as a home remedy for colds and flu. Unfortunately, smells that cats hate include eucalyptus. The concentrated smell of eucalyptus essential oils is strong enough to cause irritation to your cat’s nasal passages, and even make their eyes feel like they are burning.

You should also never use eucalyptus oil to soothe a respiratory infection your cat may have or to try and open their airways. In fact, doing so can have the opposite effect and make your cat feel worse and more stressed.

The eucalyptus plant itself can be used as a deterrent for cats since they do not like the pungent herbs smell. However, many essential oils are toxic to cats through inhalation and ingestion. Therefore, take caution when using these oils around cats.

4. Banana

Bananas

The taste and smell of bananas are a deterrent to cats.

©Yuri Dondish/Shutterstock.com

Both the taste and smell of this yellow fruit are unbearable for many cats. They will steer clear of bananas and are unlikely to willingly eat this fruit if it was left out. Any cat treats or foods that have a strong banana smell and taste aren’t very appealing to your cat. You might find that they won’t eat them. Banana peels may work as a repellent, although it is probably not potent enough to repel many cats.

5. Chili Powder

paprika spice closeup

Chili powder can irritate cats’ noses and eyes and can lead to a cat feeling stressed.

©iStock.com/Sebalos

The spicy aroma of chili powder is hated by cats since it irritates their nose and eyes. If your cat inhales or licks chili powder, it can cause an unpleasant burning sensation, making your cat feel incredibly stressed. It is for this reason that placing chili powder around the house to repel cats isn’t a good idea since it can harm them.

Most cats who have burning mouths and nasal passages won’t get quick relief from drinking water or letting the burn pass as humans can. The smell can also make your cat sneeze, and strong chili powders can cause a burning sensation in your cat’s eyes.

6. Ammonia

cat next to litter box looking up at camera

Cat urine contains ammonia, therefore, making a litter box a place of concentrated ammonia smell that cats don’t like.

©New Africa/Shutterstock.com

As naturally hygienic animals, cats don’t enjoy doing their business in a dirty litterbox. Their urine contains concentrations of ammonia, and a build-up of the ammonia smell is enough to deter most cats. Ammonia can also be found in many household cleaning products, such as window or drain cleaners.

The harsh smell of ammonia is quite potent, and not at all good for cats to inhale. The smell can also irritate their respiratory systems and eyes. If your cat inhales a concentrated amount of ammonia for a prolonged time, it may begin to feel dizzy and sick. This makes ammonia a poor choice and a dangerous smell to use if you want to repel cats.

7. Vinegar

Vinegar being poured from a bottle into a glass bowl

The smell of vinegar may be harmful to cats by making them feel a burning sensation in their nose upon inhaling it.

©iStock.com/Michelle Lee Photography

Add vinegar to the list of smells cats hate. Vinegar is a great odor neutralizer that you might use to neutralize and clean cat pee odors or your cat’s litterbox. However, concentrated vinegar solutions smell nasty to cats. This is especially true for red or white spirit vinegar.

Vinegar itself can make your cat feel like their nose is burning with each inhale. Although, the smell is tolerable when diluted in water and used for cleaning. If there is a vinegar residue after using a vinegar solution, it might even repel your cat. You can use vinegar and water in a spray bottle to repel cats from certain furniture items. However, never spray it directly at them.

8. Mothballs

Mothballs have been recognized as unsafe for cats due to the hazardous ingredients found in them.

©iStock.com/Raunamaxtor

Using mothballs to repel cats from basements, attics, and certain parts of a house is an outdated method. Although mothballs worked as a good repellent for most cats, it is not good for cats to smell mothballs. This is because mothballs are made from chemical-based ingredients that might be harmful to cats.

This includes naphthalene, paradichlorobenzene, or the more modern ingredient – transfluthrin. Some of these ingredients have been noted for their probable carcinogenic properties, making them unsafe to keep around cats. This makes mothballs a poor choice as a cat repellent, even if it has worked well in the past.

The strong smell is not desirable for cats to smell, and it is probably the main reason it repels most cats.

9. Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds

Coffee grounds don’t smell as delicious to cats as they do to humans.

©iStock.com/Michelle Lee Photography

While coffee might be a pleasant smell for you and something you enjoy daily, it is likely that your cat doesn’t feel the same. Most coffee-related smells are hated by cats, and strong smells of coffee grounds have a repelling effect. However, cats should never have the opportunity to ingest coffee as it contains two substances that are toxic to cats – caffeine and theobromine.

The strong smell of coffee grounds is bound to repel cats, but it should be used with the cat’s safety in mind. This means ensuring that your cat does not ingest any of the coffee grounds or using a safer repelling alternative instead.

10. Pine or Cedar

Full frame closeup of six cedar 2x4 planks stacked in two columns, three high, though a bit askew, at a slight angle, relative to the camera, with the back of the stacks being a little more to the frame right than the front. Against white isolate.

Woody aromas like pine and cedar are potentially irritating to cats’ noses.

©Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock.com

The list of smells cats hate includes the woody aromas given off by pine and cedar are not enjoyed by cats and are potentially irritating to their nose. Pine is usually associated with more masculine scents in candles and toiletries, and it probably doesn’t smell as good to your cat as it does to you. There are also rodent substrates that are made from pine and cedar wood, which have a strong smell often disliked by cats because of their potency.

If you plan to use pine and cedar substrates in their litterbox, you might think twice. Not only do cats seem to hate the smell of these woods, but they are also quite dusty and contain toxic phenols that are bad for your cat to inhale.

However, the kiln-dried varieties might be safer if there are no other harmful additives. Most cats will avoid the smell of pine or cedar woods, so keep this in mind if you plan to use it in their litterboxes.

What Essential Oils Keep Cats Off of Counters?

Peppermint essential oil and fresh twig on wooden background.Tag with text peppermint

Using essential oils like peppermint oil could help keep your cat off of counters and furniture.

©rawf8/Shutterstock.com

This question is popular among cat owners, who deal with cats that insist on walking on kitchen counters, tables, and other furniture they shouldn’t be on. One strategy to discourage this behavior is to strategically place essential oils in areas you don’t want your cat to be.

Essential oils that could work well in this kind of experiment would be scents of citrus, peppermint, eucalyptus, or lime. Try not to place the oils where your cat could ingest them or step in them, as they will try to lick them off their paws.

Summary of 10 Smells that Cats Absolutely Hate

Here’s a rundown of the smells that drive your cat cray-cray….in a bad way!

RankSmell Cats Hate
1Citrus
2Lavender
3Eucalyptus
4Banana
5Chili Powder
6Ammonia
7Vinegar
8Mothballs
9Coffee Grounds
10Pine or Cedar


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About the Author

Sarah is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering aquatic pets, rodents, arachnids, and reptiles. Sarah has over 3 years of experience in writing and researching various animal topics. She is currently working towards furthering her studies in the animal field. A resident of South Africa, Sarah enjoys writing alongside her pets and almost always has her rats perched on her shoulders.

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