Our cats may have tiny, adorable noses, but don’t be fooled. Their sense of smell is mighty. Seriously, their little heads are packed full of structures and organs that support their incredible olfactory senses! Plus they get an extra scent organ in their mouths. Where we humans must get by with a mere five million or so olfactory receptors for navigating life’s good smells and bad, our cats are on that next level: flaunting their 45 to 80 million receptors and smelling the roses from, like, two blocks away. (Maybe. Don’t quote me on the two blocks bit.)

When cats love a smell, they love a smell and may spend a while excited and roll around in it. Or napping with it. Or chewing on it. (If permitted access, my giant orange tabby Tiger Jack will lick and chew the armpits out of my husband’s shirts. Yes, I know, that’s gross to us, but cat love means funk love. More on that later!) Smells they dislike, on the other hand? There’s going to be some sneering and shunning the inconsiderate area.

Okay, but what smells fall into each category? Each cat is unique, we all know that, so their personal reactions may vary - but here are some smells likely to fall under the average cat’s YES GOOD and BOO HISS lists.


Citrus - I bet you knew this would be top of the list! Cats really don’t like citrus, whether oranges, lemon, grapefruit, etc. When you’re trying to train your cat away from a certain spot in your house, citrus is often the recommended deterrent.

Mint - This one’s a toss-up, but cats who really dislike mint are demonstrating good sense: from peppermint to the wintergreen herb, these mints contain salicylate, a substance toxic to cats.

Cayenne Pepper Capsaicin doesn’t just chase me away - it repels cats as well! Don’t use this one as a cat deterrent, even though you’ll find recommendations out there about using it to protect your garden. Capsaicin is enough of an irritant to the mouth - if the pepper gets on a cat’s paws, which they then use to groom around their eyes, it can really hurt - making you a jerk of the highest order.

Cleaning Agents - Companies love selling us cleaning agents with various flowery or other strong smells - and these smells can be an assault on our cat’s senses. Exercise restraint with the “flowery meadow” or “lemon mists” scented detergents or sprays until you see how your kitty reacts to them.

Their Own Cat Box - As we all know, cats are so fastidious that they bury their waste. (Good kitties!) And in their homes, the only place to do this is in a relatively small box. Given their incredible sense of smell and the property of lingering odors, you must practice good cleaning habits with the cat box or watch your cat decide to avoid it and do their business elsewhere.


Catnip - I know, obvious alert again! It is a truth largely accepted that cats love catnip, and there are about 359,000 videos on YouTube you can watch proving this. It all comes down to an oil called nepetalactone and what that does to your cat’s brain.

Valerian - Valerian root can have a similar effect on your cats as catnip - excitement, and stimulation. Just be careful about their exposure to it and don’t let them have access to valerian unsupervised.

Green Olives - Weird, right? But true! Some cats cannot get enough of the smell of green olives - my beloved cat Kaylee would rub herself all over a green olive if I gave her one, and then she’d attach herself to my hand until she rubbed all the olive oils off. It’s a thing!

Your Funk - Okay, I’m not trying to be gross and I am only referring to a cat’s person’s funk. Cats certainly don’t love human funk in general - not every funk need apply - but they do love the funk of their particular people. They’re bonded to you; they’re scent-focused. It makes sense that they’d be attracted to your scent - which just happens to be strongest in places like your shoes or the armpits of your shirts. Hence why my silver tabby Daenerys tries to shove her face into my sneakers. Funky love.

Scents are a driving force in cats’ lives and make up a large part of how they understand and navigate the world. They even use scents to communicate, whether getting a feel for the neighborhood from where other cats have sprayed or identifying other cats (and what may be different about them) by their signature scent. As friends to our own cats, it’s the least we can do to learn the likes and dislikes of each kitty we care for. So - what smells make your cats go YES GOOD or BOO HISS?

Written by Deborah Brannon