Cat are great. Cute, fluffy balls of fun and mischief. But sometimes they can also be a bit of a nightmare – especially for gardeners. So what do you do if you want to discourage feline trespassers from digging up your carefully planted flower beds?
Well, cats have very sensitive noses. That means finding a scent they dislike can be a very effective and humane way of keeping them away.
But what smells do cats hate? That’s what we’re here to find out!
What Smells Do Cats Hate?
The strong zesty smell of citrus fruits can be very appealing to humans. But cats just don’t feel the same way.
All cats have a natural dislike of citrus scents. And interestingly, that dislike seems to get stronger the more often cats are exposed to it.
So strong is their aversion, that gardeners frequently put it to good use. Scattering dried orange or lemon peel around the edges of flower beds can be a good way to stop Tiddles digging up your beloved plants.
But what causes cats’ antipathy to citrus smells?
It’s likely that it’s a defense mechanism to prevent them eating something they shouldn’t. Citrus fruits don’t agree with cats’ tums. And if they were to consume them, they’d end up with stomach pains, sickness and diarrhea.
Bananas are another type of fruit that many cats have no time for! And some cats seem disturbed by the very sight of them.
No-one knows for sure why this is. One theory is that it’s the smell that’s to blame. Bananas give off a gas called ethyl acetate. And the distinctive smell may upset cats’ delicate olfactory systems.
Some cat owners use this to their advantage. Rubbing banana peel on furniture can prevent (though sadly not all) cats from using the wood to sharpen their claws.
But not every cat hates bananas. That might be because they’re not toxic to their digestive systems in the same way that citrus fruits are.
They are, though, very high in sugar, so they aren’t the healthiest option for cats. Eating too many can lead to problems like diabetes.
The strong refreshing smell of eucalyptus is another fragrance that’s unpleasant to cats. That may be partly because it’s quite pungent. Cats’ sense of smell is 14 times stronger than humans’, so intense scents can easily be overpowering.
And eucalyptus is also toxic to cats. If they eat it by accident, they could end up with problems like vomiting and even seizures.
Spraying eucalyptus oil around your garden isn’t the right way to deter cats. Cats lick their paws in order to groom themselves. So if they walk on ground that has been sprayed with eucalyptus, they could be heading for serious problems.
If that’s not a good enough reason, it’s an expensive approach too. Scattering citrus peel is a safer, cheaper and more effective approach to keep your garden cat-free.
The herb rosemary is another plant with a scent that cats don’t like. And planting it can be an excellent way to keep feline intruders out of your garden.
Cats seem to dislike both the scent and the texture of rosemary leaves. But, unlike eucalyptus, this plant won’t actually hurt them.
A few rosemary bushes near your boundary, then, will bring many a cat up short. As an added bonus, you’ll have constant access to an herb that’s great in meat dishes, particularly those involving lamb. It’s also a traditional remedy for muscle pain, and has even been used to promote hair growth!
Everyone loves the sweet fragrance of lavender, right? Everyone except cats, that is!
This is another case where the strong smell is probably the key factor. Cats’ delicate noses just don’t enjoy the sensory overload.
Even better, lavender is evergreen and perennial. It will do well in poor soils too. Just keep it well watered, and it will continue deterring cats from spring to winter, for years to come.
Choose some tall varieties, and plant them next to boundaries or at the front of your borders. Cats dislike jumping over lavender, so your flower beds will be safe.
Don’t, though, be tempted to use lavender essential oil instead. First up, it’s expensive – so it’s best kept for your bedside oil burner, where it will relax you into a gentle slumber. But more importantly, it’s toxic to cats.
Cats are very unlikely to nibble on lavender bushes – after all, they dislike the smell. But if they get lavender essential oil on their paws, they’ll try to lick it off. And those concentrated chemicals are very poisonous, and can even prove fatal.
If you’re looking for a plant that will stay unmolested by cats, geraniums are a good choice. And they can be used in a multitude of locations, from flower beds to pots.
A number of theories have been put forward as to why cats and geraniums don’t mix. Most people say that cats find their smell off-putting. Others theorize that geraniums’ furry leaves could irritate cats.
Whatever the truth of the matter, I’ve never seen any of my three cats turn tail at the sight of a geranium. But each and every one steers clear of the large geranium-filled trough that borders their route to the back of the garden. Without the geraniums, I’m certain that container would quickly have become the perfect outdoor lavatory.
Some species of geranium provide good ground cover, and many can handle shady conditions. So they’re a great choice to stop cats digging up your flower beds.
7. Coleus canina
The plant known as Coleus canina has a strong, distinctive smell that, according to gardening lore, cats really hate. It’s believed to be so repellent to felines that it’s been given the nickname Scaredy Cat!
It has a number of other advantages too.
It’s perennial, so you won’t need to replace it every year. It blooms in summer and early autumn, producing attractive blue flower spikes. It needs very little care, tolerating full sun and mild drought. And it’s easy to take cuttings to increase your stock of plants.
But the skunk-like odor is quite strong, especially if you brush up against it. It’s not only cats who may find it unpleasant! So you probably won’t want to plant it alongside pathways.
And despite its legendary cat-deterring powers, there’s no real scientific evidence that cats dislike it.
8. Lemon Thyme
We already know that cats dislike citrus smells. And that aversion seems to extend to the herb lemon thyme. That’s probably because it smells like lemons – a pleasant addition to any garden as far as humans are concerned! And while cats don’t like it, it won’t do them any harm.
There are several other advantages to adding lemon thyme to your garden. It’s easy to grow, with attractive evergreen foliage. It has a range of culinary uses. It works equally well in rock gardens, herb gardens, pots, or as groundcover. And it’s very attractive to bees and other pollinators.
The plants grow to a height of 12 to 15 inches, and they’ll tolerate mild drought conditions. And if you have deer visiting your garden – lucky you! – the plants are resistant to their nibbling too.
Even humans who don’t actually like coffee usually enjoy the smell. But cats don’t share the same opinion!
That might be because the scent is so strong. Cats’ delicate noses can be assaulted by what to them is a pungent Arabica aroma.
But the smell may also be nature’s way of keeping cats away from something that’s poisonous to them. Cats’ digestive systems are highly sensitive to caffeine, which means that coffee is a real no-no.
We’ve heard it suggested that placing coffee grounds around plants can deter cats. But if cats get the grounds on their paws and lick them off, it could be fatal. There are much better options out there to prevent feline trespass on your garden.
10. Strong Perfume
Aside from the natural odors that cats dislike, strong synthetic smells can be very unpleasant to them too. That can be anything from room freshener to perfume, and everything in between.
Cats aren’t simply passing judgement on your choice of fragrance! Their olfactory systems are incredibly sensitive. So what might smell like a faint scent to us can be overwhelming to a cat.
It’s a good idea for cat owners to keep this in mind if they want to enjoy lap time with their feline friends. A hefty spray of eau de cologne could have your kitty running for the hills! Even strongly scented clothes detergent or fabric softener could cause them discomfort.
And if you’re a cat owner and want to wash your cat’s favorite cushion or blanket, unscented detergent is best.
Smells cats hate: a quick roundup
Cats’ sharp sense of smell means that strong fragrances can be very unpleasant to them. And there are some particular scents that seem to – well, get up their noses!
But in some cases, that dislike is connected to substances that are very harmful to cats. So if you’re looking to deter feline intruders from your garden, choose an option that won’t hurt them.
Citrus, lemon thyme, rosemary and geraniums are all great choices. Add them as plants to pots or borders, or scatter dried citrus peel around problem areas. The days of cats digging up your flower beds are numbered!