7 Scents Cats Hate · The Wildest

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7 Scents Your Cat Probably Can’t Stand—Plus, a Few They Love

Their noses are as powerful as they are cute.

by Sio Hornbuckle
February 22, 2024
Cat making a disgusted face.
chie hidaka / iStock

Cat noses, aside from being unbelievably adorable, are pretty impressive. A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times more powerful than a human’s. Imagine your favorite scent amplified by 14 — then imagine your least favorite scent amplified by 14. Needless to say, the odors in a cat’s environment can make a big difference to their mood.

“Cats have an incredibly developed sense of smell, and certain scents can provoke strong reactions, whether of attraction or aversion,” veterinarian Dr. Sabrina Kong tells The Wildest. 

Most of us would do anything to get on our cat’s good side, which might start with knowing which smells irritate them. The next time you’re picking out a candle (wickless, preferably — safety first), keep this guide in mind. 

Scents cats think are nasty

All cats are different, but there are some scents that cats generally shy away from.


Most famously, cats tend to turn their nose up at those fresh fruity scents humans love. “Among the scents most cats dislike are citrus odors like lemon, lime, and orange,” Dr. Kong says. So, if your cat’s giving you the cold shoulder, it might be time to swap out your orange blossom hand soap for something a little more palatable. 


You may have seen this on TikTok, but a lot of cats don’t want to be anywhere near a banana (and some cats reaaally hate them). This may be because banana peels contain ethyl acetate, which smells a little like acetone — ie., the stuff in nail polish remover — which isn’t a nice smell to a cat’s super powerful nose. Funny enough, bananas aren’t toxic to cats… so if they can get past the scent, feel free to give them a small piece.

Essential oils 

“Strong aromatic oils such as eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, and cinnamon are generally unappealing to cats,” Dr. Kong says. But even more importantly, they’re toxic to cats, so keep your diffuser far away from your pet. Essential oils can cause kitties to experience vomiting, trouble breathing, and even liver failure. 


Some cats dislike the smell of spices like cayenne and chili powder, which contain capsaicin, a chemical that is very harmful to cats. Never give your cat access to capsaicin; if the spice gets on their skin, it can be very painful and irritating. 


Some anecdotal evidence shows that cats dislike the strong smell of coffee grounds — but take this one with a grain of salt, because there’s also some anecdotal evidence that some cats (OK, my cat) will stick their face into your coffee cup when you aren’t looking. 


Most humans don’t like the smell of vinegar, so it makes sense that cats — with their super strong sense of smell — hate it even more. 

Strong artificial smells 

In general, cats prefer keeping it natural. “Perfumes can be aversive to cats, heavily scented hair and skin products, Glade plug-ins, burning incense, heavily scented candles — those can all be unpleasant to cats because they’re artificial,” Dr. Mikel Delgado recently told The Wildest.  

Scents cats go wild for

On the other hand, there are a few scents cats adore. Most obviously: catnip. “Cats are famously attracted to the scent of catnip, which contains nepetalactone,” Dr. Kong says. Cats also love the smell of fish and pheromone sprays

“Valerian root is another scent many cats find irresistible, likely due to its isovaleric acid content,” Dr. Kong adds. “These scents can be used in toys or bedding to encourage cats to favor certain spots or items.”

A few caveats

Although some people attest to using non-toxic scents, such as citrus, to deter their cat from approaching certain surfaces, Dr. Delgado’s not sure how well this works. “People have suggested it as a deterrent, like to keep cats out of your garden, but I have not seen it be that effective. But it is possible,” she said. “I don’t think if you eat tangerines your cat is going to run away from home … But you probably don’t want to put citrus odors on their bedding.”

She also cautioned that it’s not the most effective way to change a cat’s behavior. “I don’t use those methods of training,” she said. “Whenever you’re trying to change a behavior, it really depends on what the motivation for the behavior is. So, you need to address the underlying reason for the behavior.”

If you’re going to use scents to keep a cat away, be sure to do it safely. “Essential oils and other strong scents should be used sparingly and never applied directly to the cat or within their reach, as ingestion or direct contact can be harmful,” Dr. Kong says. “Instead, scent deterrents can be applied to cotton balls or diffused in areas you wish to keep cat-free.”

Sio Hornbuckle

Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.

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