What Scents Do Cats Not Like? [& Why You Should Be Aware of Them]

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What Scents Do Cats Not Like? (short answer)

Here’re the scents cats hate:

  1. Some fruits like citrus fruits (lime, lemon, orange, mandarin & grapefruit) and bananas.
  2. Certain vegetables like garlic, onions, and tomatoes.
  3. Some herbs and plants like mint, pine, cedar, thyme, oregano, lavender, geranium, rosemary, eucalyptus, winterberry, coleus canina (also known as Scaredy Cat Plant).
  4. Certain spices like chili, curry, pepper, mustard, cinnamon.
  5. Cleaners, Soaps, and Deodorants particularly those with scents listed above, like mint, lavender, pine, lime.
  6. Other scents like coffee, vinegar, incense, stale fish, dirty litter box, unfamiliar cats, petroleum products.

Don’t forget that each cat is distinct. So, while your cat may dislike a certain scent, another may love it.

Felines are far better equipped than humans to perceive the environment through their noses. Researchers estimate that the cat’s sense of smell is 14 times stronger than ours. This is due to 200 million super-powered scent receptors.

Because cats are more sensitive to odors than us, they don’t always perceive scents—good or bad—in the same way. Sad to say, many cat owners are unaware that our cats’ ultra-sensitive smell doesn’t always agree with our preferred fragrances.

Today we’ll look at: what scents do cats not like? Especially the ones that can harm them. So read carefully to learn them all.

You can use this knowledge if you decide to train your cat, as you can use these scents as strong repellants. You can also use it to create a pleasant environment for your cats and keep them safe.

Understanding a Cat’s Sense of Smell

When exploring surroundings, cats rely on their sense of smell rather than what they can see or touch. They can even detect scents that humans can’t smell.

If you want to learn more about how cats communicate with one another, this article will provide you with useful information:

Can Cats Communicate With Each Other? Here’s What You Should Know

Cats developed their distinct scent-processing anatomy in a way that humans and other animals did not. They basically suck scents into their noses, where specific organs classify them as friends or foes.

And did you know that cats have two senses of smell, or “noses”? Your cat has olfactory receptors in its nose, just like humans.  They also have a special organ called the Jacobson’s organ (or the Vomeronasal organ) for this function. 

It is located behind the upper incisors on the palate. The cat breathes the odor and interprets it as if it were tasting it.

This secondary nose is more sensitive to pheromones.

What scents do cats not like? White cat face with a wide open mouth, showing the location of the Vomeronasal organ. It is indicated by an arrow that it is located just behind the upper incisors.

These 2 noses combined have 200 million receivers, while our nose has only 5 million. 

Most of the smells cats hate come from things that are dangerous to them. They act as cues for cats to avoid certain foods, substances, or plants.

For instance, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are extremely harmful to cats. They avoid these gases because they are released by petroleum products. We’ll go over it in better detail later in the article.

Just keep in mind that every cat is different. So while one cat may dislike a particular scent, another may enjoy it (apart from the dangerous ones).  You should experiment until you find the perfect scent or scents that work.

Why Should You Know What Smell Do Cats Hate?

Knowing which scents cats don’t like allows you to know your cat better and also to: 

  1. Keep cats safe;
  2. Prevent cats from scratching on things they shouldn’t; and
  3. Influence cats’ behavior.

# 1 Keep Cats Safe

Above all, any scented product you use with cats must not be toxic or harmful. “When in doubt, don’t use it!” is a simple rule to follow.

Cats instinctively dislike certain odors, which can irritate them. But, it is key to know what scent can be potentially toxic, so you must keep these scents out of your home.

By maintaining your house clear of scents that cause cats discomfort, you will have a better behaved and happier cat.

# 2 Prevent Cats From Scratching on Things They Shouldn’t

If your cat likes to scratch your furniture, you can use scents to discourage such behavior. Knowing which ones your cat doesn’t like lets you apply an organic and effective solution.

You can also use cat repellent products, but be aware that they may contain chemicals. So read the label carefully.

If scratching has become a serious problem in your house and you’d like to know every solution available to stop this horrible behavior…

Check out this full guide on the best ways to stop your cat from scratching furniture.

# 3 Influence Cats Behavior

Knowing which smells cats don’t like can also help you guide their behaviors. 

For instance, when I first got a cat, I thought lavender-scented kitty litter was a good idea. My cat refused to use it though… and I couldn’t figure out why until I discovered cats dislike the smell of lavender.

Even if you do not own a cat, you can benefit from this knowledge. Planting certain herbs in your garden, for example, can help keep neighborhood cats out of your yard.

What Scents Do Cats Not Like? (long answer)

Each of us has certain scents that we find irresistible. We can say the same thing for the ones we detest. Cats are the same way.

With their “super noses” always on full alert, many “benign” household scents can agonize our beloved pets. Here’s a closer look at which scents bother cats the most:

# 1 Some Fruits

Citrus fruits (lime, lemon, orange, mandarin & grapefruit)
Citrus is at the top of the list of scents that cats don’t like. Citrus scents are widely reported to be repulsive to cats. In fact, cat repellents are manufactured using enzymes derived from citrus fruits. It’s still unknown why they don’t like it. Some scientists believe that the strong odor emitted by citrus fruit is too much for the cat’s sensitive olfactory cells. If you want to use citrus as a deterrent, place peels in any area where you don’t want your cat to go.  For example, spraying a citrus scent on furniture that you don’t want your cat to scratch. And if your cat loves to jump on your kitchen cabinets, placing a plate with oranges might be enough to put it off. This works even better outside because it doesn’t matter if the shell rots. Make sure to replace them regularly if you are using them indoors.  This will keep fruit flies at bay. Or, you can buy citrus-scented cat deterrent sprays. Remember to use it with MODERATION.  So avoid cleaning all surfaces in the house with a citrus-scented cleaner or it could be too much for your feline friend. In fact, your cat could start misbehaving or simply run away. Two things I’m sure you’d like to avoid.

Cats don’t like the smell of bananas very much. Experts believe that cats can “smell” potassium, which discourages them from eating bananas. Potassium may also be one of the reasons why many medications taste bad for cats.

Another reason could be that as bananas ripen, they release ethyl acetate, which has a strong acetate odor. Most cats dislike this sweet scent since they do not associate this with food being the carnivores they are.

This means that bananas are an excellent way to keep cats at bay. They flee from it. As for lemons and oranges… you can leave banana peels or place bananas on a table or in a cabinet to stop your cat from jumping there.

Bananas will not harm your pet if eaten; they are not toxic to cats despite not being a part of their diet.

Fruits Toxic/Safe

# 2 Certain Vegetables

Close up view fresh tomatoes, garlic and onion bundle dark background
Onions and Garlic

Onion scents can bother humans and make them cry. The same goes for your pet, actually even worse. Cats must not eat onions, garlic, chives, or leeks, which are members of the allium family. 

Why?  Because these foods contain thiosulfate, a compound that can destroy red blood cells. A potentially fatal condition is known as hemolytic anemia.

In short, your cat could die if it eats them.

Tomatoes have a strong odor, especially when they are still on the ground. They contain solanine, another compound toxic to cats, according to the ASPCA. If cats consume it, they may experience stomach problems, lethargy, a slower heart rate, and other harmful symptoms.

Cats may instinctively dislike the smells of onions, tomatoes, and garlic. Although the smell does not harm the cat, ingesting these vegetables can be extremely harmful to their health.

Avoid leaving your food (if it contains these vegetables) within your cat’s reach. And do not feed it with your leftovers.

Vegetables Toxic/Safe

# 3 Some Herbs and Plants

Close up of fresh herbs inside a white plate

Many floral and herbal scents irritate a cat’s sensitive sense of smell. Here is a list of the most common:

Mint, pine, cedar, thyme, oregano, lavender, geranium, rosemary, eucalyptus, winterberry, coleus canina.

Your cat can get poisoned by mint, oregano, lavender, geranium, eucalyptus, winterberry, and coleus canina. But only in the form of oil and if it is ingested or applied to its skin.

Don’t worry if you want to use these plants in your garden to scare the neighborhood or stray cats away. Cats avoid toxic smells by instinct as a natural form of protection.


It comes from the same family as catnip and both contain nepetalactone, a compound that attracts cats.

Still, many cats dislike the smell of mint and prefer to avoid it.

Close up of fresh mint leaves

The olfactory cat system evolved to a point that it makes them dislike mint despite being attracted to them. Also, inhaling it irritates their nose.

Yet, some cats have a different attitude towards mint and do not avoid it.

Don’t worry if you have mint in your garden or your kitchen. Your cat would need to eat huge quantities of it to feel sick.

Pine & Cedar

Other scents that most cats avoid are pine and cedar. They are excellent natural and risk-free repellent.  Yet, they are not universally unpleasant scents for cats and may not be as effective as other scents on this list deterrents.

Several cat litters are made of pine or cedar. And there are 2 reasons for that: 

  • First, they absorb more litter box odors and cover up any lingering odors.
  • Second, they are environmentally friendly.

Many cats enjoy using pine pellet litter. If you bought one for yours and it’s avoiding it… chances are your cat doesn’t like the smell. Try another and you’ll see a complete change of behavior.

And if your cat dislikes all litter box good smells…  here’s a rule of thumb to follow: cats prefer unscented clumping litter to do their business.

Rosemary & Thyme

Cats despise rosemary and thyme, and there are two reasons for that:

  • They have a strong odor that is too pungent for cats’ sensitive noses, and
  • They have a rough texture that cats dislike brushing up against.

This makes those herbs an amazing deterrent for cats because they are not toxic, unlike some other herbs like mint.

You can make household rosemary or thyme spray with essential oils, water, and neutral dishwashing liquid.

You can use it to spray on scratched or urinated-on furniture or carpets. Trust me. It will work wonders.


This is one of many herbs that smell delicious to humans but are repulsive to cats. Its strong scent is amplified by the cat’s refined sense of smell.

Planting oregano in your garden can help keep cats at bay.

Warning: Cats are unable to digest essential oils found in oregano (phenols and terpenoids).

So, if your leftover food contains oregano, don’t feed it to your cat. In some cases, this can cause liver damage.


This tree is native to Australia, yet it’s found in some parts of the United States.  Mainly in California, where it is considered an invasive species.

Koalas can eat them in large quantities without harm, but your cat cannot.

The problem is with eucalyptol, a powerful disinfectant found in eucalyptus essential oil.

Eucalyptus in all forms — from fresh to dried is toxic for cats. The essential oils form is the most dangerous for your pet, especially if ingested.

Coleus Canina

Coleus canina is an Asian plant that’s a member of the mint family.

This plant is also known as the “Scaredy Cat Plant” because cats detest its smell.  

Why? Cats are naturally wary of it because it mimics the scent of skunks.

When the plant is pruned back, the foul odor becomes even stronger and more potent. This could be a good solution for anyone who wants to keep the neighborhood cats out of their garden.

However, there is a cost: you must tolerate the bad smell as well. Humans don’t like it either.

Herbs and Plants Toxic/Safe
Coleus canina

# 4 Certain Spices

Chilli Pepper, Curry & Dried Mustard

Spices and seasonings do not agree with cats’ noses.  All spicy foods contain alkaloids. Those compounds, when consumed, affect the nervous system of all animals, including humans.

This is why a japeño or wasabi tastes spicy and makes our mouths feel hot. Cats associate them as toxic.

You can sprinkle chili flakes or cayenne pepper in your flower beds so no cat (or any other animal) jumps on them. Still, I would not suggest using it.

Why? Because when cats groom themselves, pepper flakes could enter their eyes or noses.

This causes irritation and a burning sensation, like how your eyes would sting if you rubbed them after chopping up a hot chili. I suggest using a different scent that causes no pain or discomfort instead.


Although we enjoy the smell of cinnamon, it is another strong and aromatic scent that cats cannot tolerate.

It overwhelms them, even if we feel it as a warm and sweet spice.

Photo by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Fortunately, it is non-toxic to them, according to the ASPCA. So this makes it another ideal scent to use to keep cats at bay while not harming them. 

If you’d like to make your homemade cinnamon spray, create a mix of water, cinnamon, and lemon. Then see if it works for you and your cat.

Spices Toxic/Safe
Dried mustard
Black pepper

# 5 Household Cleaners & Air Fresheners

Cats dislike the smell of common household cleaning products, soaps, deodorants, and air fresheners. Basically, anything with a chemical smell is a resounding no.

Most of these products are toxic if ingested (by both cats and humans), and their chemicals are too strong for your cat’s sensitive nose.

Your cat won’t go near any place you’ve just cleaned. Think about it this way: if the room’s smell is strong for you… chances are it will be too strong for your cat.

This means you need to be careful when cleaning anything your cat uses, such as their bowls, beds, or litter box. If you use something too pungent, they may stop using those items. So it’s important to use gentle cleaning products.

Which ones? Baking soda is a great example. You can use it to clean the bottom of your cat’s litter box (put the litter on top). You’ll reduce the bad smell AND avoid upsetting your cat. Two birds with one stone.

Cleaners & Air Freshener Toxic/Safe
Soaps and deodorants
Anything with chemical smell

# 6 Other Scents


Cats also hate the smell of coffee, which has a particularly aromatic and bitter odor they find overwhelming.

They are also very sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Even small amounts can be toxic and damage the nervous system

Photo from Pixabay

Its aroma won’t harm them though. Many people use coffee grounds to keep cats away from gardens and plants.

While it may be an effective solution… it is not a safe one for them.

Coffee grounds can get stuck on their paws or fur and then get eaten when grooming, leading to stomach issues.


Most cats despise the smell of vinegar, but some tolerate it.

You can use vinegar to clean your house or to keep your cat out of specific areas.

Vinegar doesn’t harm your pet. Still, keep in mind that cleaning cat urine with vinegar can backfire.

It may cause a feline to urinate on the area again, presumably in an attempt to mask the unpleasant smell.


Burn incense stick is a popular way to add a pleasant aroma and a feeling of zen to many homes.

Sadly, it combines many of the worst qualities when it comes to harming cats.

Close up view of incense sticks burning, giving off smoke
Photo by Milada Vigerova from Unsplash

Incense smells are repulsive to our cats’ senses. Also, inhaling its smoke can lead to asthma and other respiratory issues.

You can choose many other cat-friendly alternatives to incense.  You can use a mister for essential oils that are pleasant to cats.  

This lets you meditate in peace while not putting your pet in danger.

Stale Fish

By now, you should have noticed how cats and cat-owners have very different opinions about which smells are pleasant or unpleasant. But there is one smell both despise the stench of rotten fish.

But there is one smell both despise the stench of rotten fish.

Don’t try feeding stale fish to your cat. It won’t be like it.

And even if it does eat it, it may lead to food poisoning.

Pile of fish close up view
Photo by Jakub Kapusnak from Unsplash
Dirty Litter Box

This is another scent on which you and your cat will both agree.

If you leave the litter box dirty for too long, the built-up odor (especially the smell of ammonia) can discourage your cat from using it ever again.

And that could lead to cat owners’ worst nightmare: a cat relieving itself on the carpet, under the furniture, or inside flower vases.

The issue worsens the more cats you have in the house. Cats smelling each other’s feces also makes them stop using their litter box. Even if theirs are clean.

IMPORTANT: each cat MUST have at least one litter box and you should clean them daily.

Keeping your cat’s litter box clean not only makes it more attractive to them but is also more hygienic.

Consider switching to a self-cleaning model if you’re struggling to keep up with this task.

Unfamiliar Cats

Cats do not stand the scent of other cats they don’t know.

The scent of a “new cat” in the house can make your pet nervous.

Worse, it may start spraying around the house for territorial purposes.

Two stray cats approaching and sniffing attentively

If you are thinking about bringing a new cat into your home, I strongly recommend you learn how to do it properly. If not, you will regret it, just as I did.

I had a negative experience with a new kitten called Mia. The moment she entered our home, my cat Junior despised her and refused to accept her.

It growled every time he saw her and tried to attack her if they were left alone in the same room. He also started to stay outside the house for longer periods, avoiding both Mia and the entire family.

Things changed when Mia passed away in a car accident.

While it was a devastating moment for everyone… not having Mia at home had a complete change in Junior’s behavior. He returned to be the loving and affectionate cat I knew once.

This story is not meant to tell you you shouldn’t bring new cats into your house. I’m just telling you that because of my lack of knowledge, I had no idea how to handle this situation.

If you’d like to fill the gap, I found this book that gives you practical advice for dealing with this and many other types of situations.

You won’t have to go through the same mistakes I did in the past. This way, your family, cats, and you will be able to make a transition like this in peace.

Petroleum Products (Gasoline or Kerosene)

Fuels, solvents, lubricants, and waxes, as well as some pesticides and paints with a petroleum base, are some of the petroleum products that poison cats and small animals.

If cats ingest these products (or humans), they can have a severe physical reaction called petroleum hydrocarbon toxicosis.

This means lung inflammation and chemical pneumonitis, a potentially fatal condition. Some cats are exposed to these products as a result of accidental spills.

In other cases, people will use gasoline or other solvents on a cat to remove something stuck on its skin or hair like paint.

Yet, using gasoline or kerosene to clean the cat’s skin, or putting it near its mouth, will poison it.

Keep in mind:

  • When you go to the vet, NEVER fill up your car’s gas tank. Gas stations’ concentrated gases are too intense for your cat and can cause severe discomfort.

  • Never use these products to clean your cat’s fur.
Close-up of a hand putting gasoline in a car
Other Scents Toxic/Safe
Stale fish
Dirty litter box
Unfamiliar cats
Petroleum products


It’s difficult for us to understand why cats like to sleep on stinky shoes. However, identifying which scents cause your cat to flee is critical.  With this knowledge, you can reduce stress at home and increase overall happiness.

Cats’ noses are extremely sensitive.  But with a few precautions, you can make your home a pleasant olfactory experience for both of you.

Consider the fact that your cat is close to the ground, so avoid using strong-smelling chemicals to clean the floors. Also, don’t spray strong perfumes or chemicals near your pet.

Follow this as a rule of thumb: if you can smell it, it will be forty times worse for your cat!.

It’s difficult for us to understand why cats like to sleep on stinky shoes. However, identifying which scents cause your cat to flee is critical.  With this knowledge, you can reduce stress at home and increase overall happiness.

Cats’ noses are extremely sensitive.  But with a few precautions, you can make your home a pleasant olfactory experience for both of you.

Consider the fact that your cat is close to the ground, so avoid using strong-smelling chemicals to clean the floors. Also, don’t spray strong perfumes or chemicals near your pet.

Follow this as a rule of thumb: if you can smell it, it will be forty times worse for your cat!

Are You Fed up With Your Cat’s Bad Behaviors?

This simple and easy-to-read guide will let you find the answers you need today.

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