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14 Smells That Cats Hate: A Comprehensive Guide

Written by: Gregory Iacono

Last Updated on February 26, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

close-up of nose and mouth of a cat

14 Smells That Cats Hate: A Comprehensive Guide

A cat’s amazing sense is 14 times more powerful than ours and enables them to detect even faint aromas most humans would miss. However, a cat’s keen sense of smell works both ways, and many smells and odors bother them to the extreme. Knowing what these aromas are can serve two purposes; it can help you eliminate odors your cat finds offensive and also help you keep your cat away from things they shouldn’t go near. We’ve compiled 14 smells below that most cats hate, plus tips and advice about using some of them to your advantage.

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The 14 Smells That Cats Hate

1. Most Kinds of Citrus Fruit

citrus fruits
Image Credit: Obodai26, Pixabay

One of the smells that cats hate the most comes from citrus fruits, including lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, and others. Over the millennia, cats’ innate sense has empowered them to avoid citrus due to this toxicity.

Essential oils made from citrus, especially lemon, are one of the smells cats hate the worst. However, because citrus is toxic to cats, using pure essential oils to deter them is not a good idea. It’s better to use a mixture of 10 drops of essential oil in a 1-pint spray bottle of water.

2. Lavender

Another smell that cats hate is lavender. Like citrus, essential oils from lavender are the enemy of every cat’s nose and the 200 million+ olfactory cells therein. It’s also important to note that lavender is toxic to cats, including lavender plants. The reason why is that cats can’t digest linalool and linalyl acetate, two chemicals in lavender.

However, lavender essential oil is much more toxic than lavender plants because it’s concentrated, so using it as a deterrent isn’t recommended. Instead, you can place lavender plants in pots wherever you want your cats to stay away but monitor them to be sure they aren’t eating any.

3. Thyme

Thyme is a culinary herb that’s incredibly popular in the United States. For most cats, the smell of thyme is overpowering and doesn’t remind them of food in any way. You’ll be glad to know that thyme isn’t toxic to cats, and you can place plants around your home or fill satchels with thyme and hang them where you want to keep your cat away.

4. Pine and Cedar

cedar chips and essential oil
Image Credit: Madeleine Steinbach, Shutterstock

Another smell that’s very popular with humans but unpleasant for cats is the smell of pine and cedar. Most cats find both to be overpowering, and they also dislike the texture they leave behind. One thing to be cautious about, however, is that the ASPCA has listed pine and cedar as being toxic to cats.

If you have a problem with stray cats in your yard, planting pine and cedar trees or hedges around your property is an excellent deterrent. You can also place piles of pine or cedar needles wherever cats enter your yard to keep them out. Not only will they avoid the pine and cedar needles because of the smell, but also because they’re uncomfortable to walk on.

5. Rosemary

You can find rosemary in several culinary dishes, and it’s also in popular essential oils. Besides the fact that cats hate it, one of the good things about the herb is that it’s not toxic to cats. However, experts recommend not using essential oils of any kind around cats because of their intense concentration and the fact that they can burn the sensitive mucous membranes around your cat’s eyes, nose, and nostrils. To use rosemary as a cat deterrent, simply plant the easy-to-grow herb around your garden or place potted rosemary plants around your home.

6. Peppermint

Peppermint is one of the easiest herbs to grow in a home garden. There are other kinds of mint besides peppermint that cats also hate, including spearmint, pennyroyal, apple mint, water mint, and several others. Peppermint and other types of mint are toxic to cats, and it’s better to put mint plants in pots around your home than use essential oil.

7. White Vinegar

vinegar and bowl
Image Credit: NatureFriend, Pixabay

If you’re trying to mask the aroma of food so your cats don’t, for example, raid your pantry, white distilled vinegar is perfect. White vinegar will completely overwhelm your cat’s sense of smell, which makes it incredibly difficult for them to sense any others. One interesting fact you should note is that apple cider vinegar doesn’t repel cats nearly as well.

To use white vinegar as a cat repellent, mix a one-to-one ratio with water and put it in a plastic spray bottle. Wherever you want your cats to stay away, spray the solution. Be careful never to spray the solution directly into your cat since the acid in the vinegar can cause pain and discomfort.

8. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus plants are incredibly aromatic and attractive to humans, but cats hate them. The smell is too pungent for cats and thus is a great deterrent. One problem with eucalyptus, however, is that while it can help a respiratory issue you might have, it can have the opposite effect on your cat and make any respiratory issues they have worse. That’s why experts recommend you never use eucalyptus oil with an inhaler to help a cat with a respiratory issue. High concentrations of the plant’s oil can irritate your cat’s nose and irritate their eyes.

9. Chili Powder

You might not be surprised to learn that chili powder is an irritant that can cause significant stress to your cat and greatly irritate their eyes and nose. Licking chili powder can also cause an unpleasant burning sensation in your cat’s mouth. It can also make your cat sick if they eat enough due to the capsaicin and solanine compounds found in it. Veterinarians recommend against using chili powder as a cat repellent for these reasons.

10. Mothballs

mothballs in wooden bowl
Image Credit: Faizal Ramli, Shutterstock

Although mothballs have been around for several decades, they’ve fallen out of favor with most people. There are much better ways to prevent moths and other insects from destroying clothing. Yes, cats hate the smell of mothballs, but they are also highly toxic and, for that reason, shouldn’t be used as a cat repellent. In some places, using mothballs as an animal repellent is illegal.

11. Bananas

Cats don’t particularly hate bananas, but they hate the smell of banana peels. Why? Because banana peels emit a chemical called ethene that cats find repulsive. Interestingly, ethene is emitted when a banana is ripening, and they aren’t the only fruits that produce it. Tomatoes, plums, apricots, apples, mangoes, and several others also emit ethene.

As a cat repellent, you only need to leave banana peels out after you’ve taken them off of your bananas. Your cats will avoid them, at least until they’re completely decomposed.

12. Ammonia

Ammonia is what makes cat urine so pungent. Since cats are genuinely hygienic animals, they don’t like being exposed to urine and its ammonia odor. Also, the odor of pure ammonia is incredibly potent and irritating to a cat. That’s why using ammonia as a cat deterrent is not a good idea because it’s unhealthy for them and doesn’t eliminate the odor.

13. Coffee Grounds

coffee grounds
Image credit: Piqsels

Did you know that caffeine is toxic for cats? The good news is that, since they won’t eat it, using coffee grounds to keep cats out of your garden or off countertops works quite well. You can sprinkle the grounds around your garden or put some in a small dish and place it wherever you want your cats to avoid.

14. Onions

Slicing an onion can cause irritation due to a natural chemical called syn-Propanethial-S-oxide. This chemical causes the same reaction in cats, especially if they bite an onion. Most cats, however, will never do that, thanks to their dislike of onions. Because onions and garlic are so dangerous to cats, they should never be used as deterrents.

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Final Thoughts

When you consider that cats have a more enhanced sense of smell than humans, it’s not surprising that they don’t like strong odors. Sure, ammonia isn’t much of a surprise because it’s so powerful. However, smells like citrus, eucalyptus, pine, and even coffee grounds are repulsive to cats even though they’re harmless to us. If you want to use one of the odors to repel cats from your yard, using a plant or herb is safer than essential oils.

Featured Image Credit: Photographerivanova, Shutterstock

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