Household Odors Your Cat Doesn’t Like

How to protect your pet’s highly acute sense of smell.


The uplifting scent of flowers, the rejuvenating odor of lemon, or the kitchen-cozy aroma of cinnamon may seem the perfect note to add to your home. But you could be overwhelming your cat’s sensitive olfactory systTem with odors that don’t appeal to him.

Your feline friend has anywhere from 45 million to 200 million olfactory receptors in his nose compared to our measly 5 million. Thus, what you perceive as a hint of lavender can feel like an odorous onslaught to your pet. And some scents we find pleasant, cats do not like even in small whiffs.

Here are some common scents your cat doesn’t care for or flat out abhors.

Citrus. Cats dislike citrus scents, which find their way into many household cleaners and deodorizers. Think “cat” to avoid pushing these odors on him. For instance, don’t wash his bowl with lemon-scented dishwashing soap, which he can smell even after you think you’ve thoroughly washed it off.

Of course, if you want to keep your cat away from something (like the side of a couch he uses as a scratching post), a citrus scent may help. The Massachusetts SPCA says it acts as an effective deterrent. But for his overall olfactory comfort, citrus odors should not be permeating your home.

Bananas, particularly if they are overripe. While we may find a too-ripe banana peel cloyingly sweet, a cat will find it downright pungent.

Dirty litter box. This is one odor cats and people agree on. Our felines, like us, do not like going into a foul-smelling “bathroom.” Make sure to remove poop at least once a day, and change the litter frequently.

Do not try to disguise the odor of your cat’s waste with litter that has a fragrance meant to “cover” its scent. There’s a fair chance your pet will hate it, to the point of making him more likely to eliminate outside the box. Instead, choose a soft, absorbent litter that quickly clumps around whatever your cat leaves behind, masking the odor naturally. And remember when cleaning the litter box not to use scented detergent. It’s safer to go with something completely unscented and neutral.

Spices and other strong seasonings. Pepper and other spices are too much for a cat. They will simply irritate his olfactory system. Obviously, you’re not going to apply seasoning to your pet’s food, but don’t offer up a bite of your own spicy or otherwise heavily seasoned dish — no hot sauces or anything with cayenne pepper. And you most definitely don’t want your cat acclimating to foods with concentrated onion or garlic powder. Onion and garlic can affect a cat’s red blood cells and lead to anemia. Even baby food you might let your cat lick sometimes contains these spices.

Essential oils. Essential oils are plant extracts. Some are toxic to cats, and your pet may instinctively know to stay away from them. For instance, a cat will generally give eucalyptus wide berth. But the scent of eucalyptus, along with the odor of tea tree oil, cinnamon, ylang ylang, pine, peppermint, wintergreen, and other essential oils, are also not enjoyable scents for your cat. So don’t use cleansers, detergents, or air fresheners that contain them.

Even more important, a number of essential oils, including peppermint and tee tree oil, can be toxic if ingested after an accidental spill. So if you absolutely feel you must use a product with essential oils, keep it well out of reach.

Less Is Usually More

So many of the mint-y and citrus-y scents that say “clean” to us smell awful to a cat. And because the feline nose detects odors so much better than ours, others are just too overpowering even if they are not offensive. Consider that you might like tuna fish but don’t want its odor permeating the air all day.

That’s how it is for cats, which is why you’ll be doing your pet a favor if you can keep your cleaning and air-freshening supplies (and laundry detergent) as scent-free as possible. Ditto for your candles.


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