What Smells Do Cats Hate?

Cats have strong noses and can sniff out pleasant or unpleasant smells at a much larger distance and with much more accuracy than us humans can ever quite appreciate. This is why many gardeners have such a problem with feline trespassers. Their gardens smell too good for these kitty visitors! This is especially true for gardens without dogs and other pets that any cat will avoid. But there are odours that cats dislike. So what smells do cats hate then?

Well, let’s look at the problem first. Your regularly dug and weeded flower beds are perfect for a cat to dig around and use as a toilet, some sweet-smelling plants and a warm and inviting space and you have the perfect garden that cats will love to explore, sit in the sun and sometimes use to do their business in.

All is not lost though, we can use this terrific sense of smell like a natural deterrent to discourage these furry animal pets from using your garden. So what smells do cats hate exactly?

First, let’s look at the science: With 45 to 80 million scent receptors, compared to our lowly 5 million scent receptors, cats can find some scents too intense to bear. Use these scents in your garden for a garden with far fewer feline visitors and a much more pleasant place to be for those with cat allergies or who dislike finding cat poop in their borders and beds.

What Smells Do Cats Hate?

Here are a few scents that cats dislike that can easily be incorporated into a garden when it comes to deterring cats from pooping (or even taking a visit) in your garden:

Citrus Scents

Many of us love the strong smell of citrus fruits like oranges, lime, lemon or grapefruit. The strong, pungent smell is the exact reason we love this fresh smelling scent, but it is the strength of this scent that is the reason cats don’t like it.

A scent that smells as strong to us as citrus smells is an assault of the senses to an animal with a sensitive nose like a furry feline. The strong smell is overpowering and many cats will avoid it at all costs.

It is difficult for us to naturally grow these plants in gardens in the UK, due to our more temperate climate than these plants usually need but this can be overcome by scattering some citrus peel or even juice around the perimeter of your garden. This may well help to keep unwanted feline visitors away. Be careful not to scatter near any plants that will take a dislike to the addition of this strong smell though but some quick research into your existing plants will be able to help you with this.

If you have space then a plant you can add to your garden is Citronella which despite its name isn’t the plant used to make citronella candles or essential oil (This is made from the lemongrass plant). This plant can grow profusely so be careful not to let it take over and it is worth it for the wonderful aroma it can bring to your garden.

If you want to know what smells cats hate then the best place to start is with anything citrus-scented.

Use Rosemary to Deter Cats

Rosemary (Rosemary Officinalis)

Rosemary is another strong scent that smells great to us but can be awful to those animals with more sensitive noses like cats. A great addition to a garden with its beautiful purple flowers, wonderful sent and delicious leaves. It can be planted in pots and placed in problem areas or as used in a herb garden for an attractive smelling garden to gardeners but an unattractive scent to passing felines.

Rosemary is relatively easy to grow and prefers sunny but sheltered spots with great drainage. They don’t thrive well in soggy areas as they don’t like their roots sitting in the wet. They can be grown in beds or in pots and are definitely a plant to choose when trying to deter cats. The benefits of having fresh, delicious leaves close to hand is enough and the fact cats dislike the scent is an added bonus!

This plant can grow and become woody over time but the leaves will always smell and taste delicious.

Rue (Ruta Graveolens)

This shrub, rue is an ornamental herb that thrives in dry conditions. As with many plants it is known by many names, such as Common Rue or Jackmans Blue. Other than being a great addition to your garden this plant with its beautiful small flowers, it is also one that many cats dislike the scent of. It is considered to be one of the plants that make great cat deterrents in your borders or rockeries.

Either evergreen or deciduous depending on the variety and conditions this is a woody perennial that is aromatic and relatively easy to care for. It prefers dryer conditions so perfect for warmer areas with great drainage.

The plant itself may deter cats from certain areas or you can sprinkle a few leaves around other areas such as patios or deckings. Be careful though when ingested these plants can be toxic so use gloves and wash your hands after handling them.

Lavender (Lavendula)

This is a scent loved by many and the distinctive purple flower with its grey-blue leaves on long stems is a common sight in many a garden. This is a scent that will fill your garden with a beautiful aroma that is inviting and calming to many of us which is why it is such a popular choice for gardeners. An added benefit for those trying to deter cats from their garden is that many cats absolutely hate it and will avoid it at all costs. Perfect to use as a natural choice to deter cats from your garden!

There are many species of this plant and despite its distinctive smell it is a member of the mint family and comes in over 40 varieties. The most common is English lavender which is an ornamental variety that flourishes in gravelly soil that provides great drainage. Plant in the sun or in pots for a beautifully scented plant always close by where you can grab a few leaves to sprinkle over your patios or garden to deter unwanted feline pests.

Coleus Canina (The Scaredy Cat Plant)

A common sight in gardens where wandering cats have been a problem is Coleus Canina. This plant has a pungent aroma that is thought to be like strong dog urine or even a skunk type smell. Some cats hate it and will avoid areas that contain this plant. The aroma is released to an even stronger degree when brushed up against so this can be a great deterrent to stop cats from wandering through any flower beds containing it.

This is an annual plant that can be grown from seed or bought as small plants ready to plant in sunny areas of the garden. They will struggle in cooler weathers so will die out when the frost starts unless you move them indoors. If you plant these in pots then you can move them to the places cats tend to frequent or plant them in borders.

When the scaredy-cat plant starts to die out you can always grab some cuttings which will easily take root so you can have plants ready for the next year too.


Despite coming from the same plant family as catnip, mint is not a plant cats like in general. The strong scent that smells great to us is overpowering to sensitive noses and smells foul to our feline friends. Adding some to your garden could help to deter your unwanted garden guests.

These could be toxic though so be careful when using this plant. No one wants to inadvertently poison someone else’s beloved pet. So, if it is having the opposite effect then consider moving it away from any pets that like to eat it. Mint is also toxic to dogs so take some extra care and precautions if you have any other pets that use your garden.

There are many varieties of mint so you should be able to choose one that will suit your garden and conditions easily. Your local garden centre should have varieties and be able to offer advice on the best type to get.

Spicy Scents or the Curry Herb Plant

Cats don’t like spicy smells. They will avoid scents like pepper or chilli because these are toxic to them which is an instinct that is useful to have. However, it isn’t easy to add peppers of any variety to most gardens and as you don’t want to inadvertently poison any pets it is best to avoid using pepper or chilli as a deterrent. An interesting and much more pleasant alternative that can thrive in a garden is the curry herb.

This is a wonderfully fragrant herb that when mixed into a herb garden can add extra depth to the array of scents that is wonderful to be amongst. In the right conditions, this plant can grow up to two-foot tall and tends to prefer dry, rocky conditions with a lot of sun and warmth. Perfect for rockeries and herb gardens in sunny spots. With some care, this plant should last through winter and be ready to flower its beautiful small clusters of yellow flowers in the Summer.

Interestingly, cats don’t just dislike the scent of this mildly spicy plant, they also dislike the feel of the coarse leaves. An added bonus to anyone trying to keep their garden cat free!

Using this List of Smells

And more importantly… How do you use this knowledge?

As with any scent or type of cat deterrent, some trial and error will be needed. Not all cats will be deterred by the same scents or methods so don’t give up if one doesn’t work, move onto the next until you find the method that works best for the local felines in your neighbourhood. You may find that you need to use a variety of scents to have the best results.

Make sure you choose scents that you enjoy as well as those that cats dislike. You don’t want to create a beautiful garden that you can’t enjoy by accident – no matter how few cats are in it! Luckily you can easily create a beautiful garden that will be a pleasure to it in and choose a few choice scents that will deter unwanted visitors.

Using scents, especially scents that come from plants won’t provide you with instant results and it will take a little work to upkeep and care for your plants. They take time to grow and will only be effective when they are flourishing and able to give off the cat deterring scent.

So plan ahead and be patient as you grow your plants ready to use in your garden. If you are looking for some quick fixes in the meantime then make use of natural ingredients such as leftover orange or lemon peel. Rub them along fences and entrance areas and sprinkle them around for extra protection. This should help deter some of the cats that like to visit your garden.

Stop Cats Pooping in Your Garden

Read the Cats Banned Definitive Guide to Stopping Cats Using Your Garden as Their Personal Litter Tray

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