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What smell does cats hate?

Cats have a strong sense of smell, even more so than humans. Their sense of smell is important for communication, hunting, and assessing their environment. However, there are certain smells that cats strongly dislike or even hate. Understanding what scents cats hate can help cat owners avoid using products or foods that may upset their feline friends.

Why do cats have such a strong sense of smell?

Cats have 14-18 million odor-sensitive cells in their nasal cavity, compared to only 5 million in humans. Their sense of smell is about 14 times better than humans. This allows them to detect odors at very low concentrations, even as diluted as 1 part per trillion!

Cats use their excellent sense of smell for:

  • Hunting – Cats can track prey by detecting faint odors and pheromones left behind.
  • Communication – Cats have scent glands that produce pheromones. They use these pheromones to mark territory and communicate with other cats.
  • Assessment – Cats use smell to gather information about new environments, objects, foods, and potential threats.

So cats rely heavily on their sense of smell to navigate the world around them. Strong odors that humans barely notice can be overwhelming for a cat.

What smells do cats hate?

Here are some of the most common smells that cats hate:


Cats generally dislike the smell of citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes. The exact reason is unknown, but it may be linked to citrus oils containing chemicals that are irritating or toxic to cats. Cats also dislike the acidic/sour smell of citrus.


Mint has a strong aroma that can be unpleasant and overwhelming for cats. Menthol and other compounds in mint may irritate a cat’s sensitive nose. Many cats also dislike the smell of eucalyptus for similar reasons.


Vinegar has an acrid, sour smell that cats seem to hate. It may overstimulate their sensitive nasal cavity. White vinegar is often used as a home remedy to deter cats from scratching furniture.


Ground cinnamon has a strong “spicy” scent that many cats dislike. It may irritate a cat’s nasal passages. Oils in cinnamon bark also contain compounds like cinnamaldehyde that cats likely find unpleasant.

Herbal scents

Cats tend to dislike potent herbal scents like lavender, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. The concentrated essential oils tend to have an overwhelming aroma for felines.

Coffee and tea

The aroma of coffee and black tea brewing can be off-putting for cats. Like herbal scents, the potent smell may overstimulate a cat’s sensitive nasal cavity.


Ethanol and other alcohols have a sharp odor that cats strongly dislike. They will usually keep their distance from the smell of alcoholic beverages. Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol can be especially unpleasant for cats.

Disinfectants and cleaners

Products like bleach, ammonia, and strong chemical cleaners have very harsh smells that are irritating to cats. The fumes may burn a cat’s nasal passages. Cats will avoid these odors and can become agitated if forced to be near them.

Essential oils

Highly concentrated essential oils like tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and bergamot oil have very intense aromas that cats hate. They can cause respiratory irritation if inhaled. Always keep essential oils out of reach of curious cats.


The chemicals used in mothballs have a strong, unpleasant scent that deters cats. Mothballs contain either napthalene or paradichlorobenzene; both can be toxic to cats if ingested.

Strong perfumes

Heavily perfumed products like scented candles, air freshening sprays, and perfumes can contain fragrances very offensive to cats. The intensity of the smells can be nauseating and cause respiratory irritation as well.

Why do cats hate these smells?

There are a few key reasons why cats are averse to certain strong odors:

  • Nasal irritation – The scents may contain volatile chemicals that irritate the delicate nasal tissue and scent receptors when inhaled.
  • Respiratory irritation – Some scents can cause irritation and inflammation in the respiratory tract if inhaled, especially the mucous membranes.
  • Toxic effects – Smells like mothballs and citrus oils contain compounds that can be toxic to cats if ingested.
  • Overstimulation – For creatures so reliant on smell, intense aromas can easily overwhelm and disorient cats.
  • Instinct – Smells like citrus, vinegar, and mint are reminiscent of the scents of toxic insects, plants, and predators that cats instinctively avoid.
  • Acidity – Cats don’t like acidic scents like citrus and vinegar because of the uniquely sour smell.

So while humans can become accustomed to strong scents, a cat’s sensitive nose finds them nauseating and alarming. Smells we barely notice can be extremely bothersome for our feline friends.

How to keep disliked scents away from cats

Here are some tips to avoid exposing your cat to smells they hate:

  • Read product labels and avoid using scented cleaners, air fresheners, candles, and fragrances.
  • If using offending scents is necessary, isolate the cat in another room with the door closed.
  • Open windows or use fans to help dissipate odors quickly after use.
  • Place dry coffee grounds or baking soda in smelly trash cans to help absorb odors.
  • Store pungent foods like citrus fruits in sealed containers.
  • Place litter boxes far away from food and water bowls.
  • Use unscented clumping litter and clean boxes frequently.
  • Avoid wiping down surfaces with vinegar when cats are present.
  • Diffuse calming cat pheromones to help ease anxiety caused by unpleasant scents.

Paying attention to scents your cat avoids can prevent exposing them to smells that put stress on their respiratory system and psyche. This will lead to a happier, healthier cat!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my cat run away when I’m peeling oranges?

The strong citrusy smell given off when peeling oranges is very unpleasant and overwhelming for cats. The oils released from the orange peel contain chemicals that cats likely find irritating or toxic when inhaled. The sour acidic scent of oranges is also disliked by cats.

Can cats detect COVID-19 through smell?

Several studies have found that dogs can detect COVID-19 by scent. However, there is currently no evidence that cats can smell COVID-19 infections. More research is needed to determine if cats can also detect the disease through their sensitive sense of smell.

Why does my cat avoid my gym clothes?

Sweaty gym clothes can have a very strong odor due to sweat mixing with bacteria on the skin’s surface. This produces pungent body odors that can be offensive and overpowering to a cat’s sensitive nose. The smell may deter cats from going near workout clothing.

Are cats bothered by their own litter box smell?

While humans find the smell of cat urine and feces unpleasant, cats are not typically bothered by the scent of their own waste. Their nasal structure is adapted to readily detect and process scents from other cats. However, excessive litter box odors can be irritating. Regular cleaning is important.

Should I avoid using cologne and perfume around my cat?

Yes, it’s best to avoid using strong fragrances like perfumes and colognes in spaces shared with your cat. The intense scents contain chemicals that are extremely irritating and unpleasant for a cat’s sensitive nose. The reaction is often comparable to a very foul stench for humans.


Cats have a much stronger sense of smell than humans, so scents imperceptible to us can be intolerable for them. Smells like citrus, mint, vinegar, and perfume can cause anything from mild annoyance to extreme anxiety or respiratory distress in cats. Being aware of scents your cat avoids allows you to make small changes to their environment that prevent unnecessary stress and irritation. Keeping offensive odors away leads to a happier, healthier cat able to make full use of their remarkable olfactory abilities.