A cat’s sense of smell may not be as strong as a dog’s, but it is still thought to be a lot stronger than ours. It is estimated that a dog’s nose may be one thousand to one million times more powerful than a human nose, while a cat’s sense of smell is estimated to be about 14 times more sensitive than ours. A cat’s sense of smell is so much stronger than ours largely because a cat’s entire nasal organ is so much bigger in relation to their head than a human. Humans have around five million receptors for picking up fragrances, while cats have 45-80 million olfactory receptors! Cats even have extra scent organs in their mouths – in fact, a cat’s olfactory system (the part of the body responsible for smelling) extends through nearly their entire head! This means that cats can smell things from a long way away that we would need to be next to in order to smell. It also means that there are many smells cats love or hate which we may not even notice.
In this article we will be focusing particularly on the scents that cats hate. Firstly, we need to understand why cats have evolved to have such a strong sense of smell. There are actually several reasons why cats benefit by having such a strong sense of smell.
Cats can smell potential enemies and dangers. Cats have an organ known as the vomeronasal organ, which is essentially a very strong receptor, detecting chemical forms of communications known as pheromones between animals. This helps the cat sense predators, competition, mates and prey – essential in the battle to survive in the wild. The vomeronasal organ, also known as Jacobson’s organ is located in the cat’s mouth which is why they will often seem to grimace when sniffing out particular odors. A strong sense of smell also enables cats to avoid eating certain harmful foods or digesting certain chemicals.
A key part of survival in the wild for a cat is being able to hunt for food. Even before a cat’s eyes open, they use their nose to locate their mothers for their first milk. Of course, cats also have very good eyesight, but they don’t rely on their sight as much as humans. Cats are largely olfactory hunters, relying on their sense of smell to track down their prey.
Cats spraying in the house may be a cause of frustration for owners, but it is a perfectly natural way for a cat to communicate. Cats spray to send messages to other cats and cats use their strong sense of smell to detect and decipher these messages.
Male and female cats use scents to communicate when they are ready to mate, and also to choose a suitable mate. When ready to mate, female cats excrete a very powerful chemical signal that male cats can detect from a considerable distance away, using the vomeronasal organ explained above. When male cats spray, they are leaving a message which female cats can use to determine their suitability as a mate.
Understanding the reasons cats have evolved such a strong sense of smell helps us to understand why they hate certain scents. Let’s take a look at some of the scents that cats hate in more detail…
Plants & Herbs
Cats hate the scent of many common garden plants and herbs. In many cases, this is a built in survival mechanism as eating the plants could cause the cat to be ill. If you want your garden to be cat-friendly, it is best to avoid the following plants/herbs;
It is also best to avoid using the oils from these herbs inside the home, or using these plants as indoor plants. If you want to make your cat truly happy, consider using catnip instead! Of course, if you want to deter your cat from a certain area, the plants listed above can be used to great effect! Some people spray essential oils containing some of these herbs on certain items of furniture or in certain rooms in order to keep their cat away.
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Cats are known for disliking certain fruits, particularly of the citrus variety. If you have unwanted cats in your flower bed, leaving some citrus peels in the bed will usually deter the cats! Fruits cats particularly dislike include;
- Orange Grapefruit
Cayenne Pepper includes capsaicin which can irritate a cat’s mouth or nose. For this reason, cats will naturally avoid it. People do use Cayenne in flower beds and on furniture and other things to deter cats but it is not recommended, as unlike some of the other things suggested, Cayenne does actually cause discomfort for cats. It is less harmful to the cat to use another deterrent such as citrus peel or lavender oil.
Many household cleaners have very strong fragrances. As discussed earlier, a cat’s sense of smell is thought to be 14 times stronger than ours, so if those cleaning products smell strong to us, imagine how strong they must smell to a cat with its super sensitive nose! Many natural cleaners have a more subtle odor so are more suitable for cat friendly households.
Cat litter trays don’t smell great to humans, so again, imagine how strong they must smell to a cat! If you don’t keep your cat’s litter box nice and clean, the chances are your cat will find somewhere else to go – this may be outside or it may be on your favorite rug! Of course, when cleaning a litter tray, it is important to be mindful of the cleaning products used as these can also contact strong scents that cats can’t tolerate.
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Cats, like people and other animals are individuals, so each cat will have their own personal tastes, but there are many scents which all cats hate. If you are trying to keep your cat away from a certain area, or if you are trying to keep your cat happy and relaxed, it is important to know which scents cats love and which ones they hate.
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Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.