Facts about the animal kingdom

10 Smells that Attract Cats

Alice Tapiol Breeze
By Alice Tapiol Breeze, AnimalWised Editor. Updated: January 30, 2020
10 Smells that Attract Cats

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A cat's sense of smell is 14 times better than a human's, so it's much more developed and allows them to perceive scents more intensely. This advantage is very useful to detect smells they worship easily but also to quickly identify those they hate.

If you are one of those people who keeps their home well scented, or commonly use essential oils for natural therapies, you will want to use those scents without disturbing your furry companion. In this AnimalWised article, we share 10 smells that attract cats. However, we already anticipate that not all smells cause the same effect in all cats. Some may have the opposite effect and we'll also explain why.

You may also be interested in: 10 Smells that Cats Hate


  1. Catnip
  2. Olive
  3. Honeysuckle
  4. Lavender
  5. Thyme
  6. Mint, Basil and Peppermint
  7. Floral aromas
  8. Fruit scents
  9. Can cats smell toxic plants?
  10. What is your cat's favorite smell?
See more >>


Nepeta cataria, better known as catnip, exerts an powerful narcotic effect on the animal. The active ingredient found in the composition of the plant, nepetalactona produces a psychoactive impact on cats that lead them to stimulate their mind and will encourage play. In this way, when a cat smells the aroma given off by catnip they tend to rub against it, lick it, eat it, show unusual behavior (such as jumping) and even hunt non-existent animals.

As it stimulates the mind of the animal and keeps them active, catnip is one of the most beneficial plants for them. However, while it is perhaps the smell that attracts cats the most, this is not the same for all cats. Some individuals do not respond to the plant in the same way. This is because the catnip response is genetic and some simply don't have the DNA to be able to appreciate it[1]. More information in our article about "the properties of catnip".


Considered as another of the smells cats like, the olive tree also produces a narcotic effect that alters a cat's behavior. This is because one of the most active components in the olive tree's leaves and trunk is a substance called oleuropein. As with catnip, when a cat perceives this smell, they tend to rub, lick, eat its leaves and show a more active attitude, action similar to the attitude they have during mating behavior.

Some cats have this attraction to just leaves, while others are attracted by all the parts the olive tree. This includes the olives themselves and products such as olive oil. Likewise, it has still not been scientifically proven that this smell exerts a relaxing effect on cats so make this claim cautiously, but it certainly does affect their central nervous system and makes them more active and playful.

10 Smells that Attract Cats - Olive


Honeysuckle is part of the popular Bach flowers and, as such, they act on the cat's body exerting a powerful soothing and calming effect. In this way, we can say that the scent given off by this plant represents one of the scents that relaxes cats. So much so, that currently such plants are used in cats and other animals for therapeutic purposes, such as dealing with insomnia, stress or anxiety.

As with the previous plants, the composition of honeysuckle attracts cats and makes them want to rub themselves against the floor, licking it and eat it. But, beware! Honeysuckle berries are toxic for cats, so it is essential to keep them away and not to let them eat this plant, just sniff it and enjoy its aroma.


As with us humans, the aroma given off by lavender attracts cats by drawing them towards it to sniff and rub against it. However, its power of attraction is not as strong as the previous plant and it is possible that some cats will not display equal interest. However, to many this is a smell that cats hate. The reasons are little known. It is possible the reasons are genetic similar to catnip or it is simply personal preference on behalf of the cat.

If your furry companion is one of these cats that love this smell, you can use it to encourage a state of relaxation. Especially in cases of anxiety and a small degree of aggressiveness, it has been shown that the use of this natural therapy, along with other relaxing factors and the discovery of the cause of the problem, help the animal feel much calmer.

Cats do not like essential oils. As their sense of smell is so strong, any essential oil can be too overpowering. Don't be too heavy handed with smells which are supposed to be calming scents for cats. If used in a diffuser or heavily diluted, it might mimic the enjoyable scent of fresh lavender.

Lavender and cats does come with a stipulation, however. Eating the plant is toxic for the cat. It is important the cat is not able to ingest the flowers or leaves.

10 Smells that Attract Cats - Lavender


Thyme is not only part of the smells that attract cats, but is also one of the most beneficial for them. Thanks to its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, when prepared in the form of infusion or tea, it helps treat irritated and inflamed eyes in cats. This means it may help to relieve symptoms caused by conjunctivitis, for example, or a particular allergy.

On the other hand, its aroma acts as a natural relaxer and therefore promotes calmness in the cat. To do so, you should ideally use the essential oil of thyme or purchase this aromatic plant. However, as with lavender, thyme may not be as effective, since not all cats are attracted by its smell.

Mint, Basil and Peppermint

Occupying the next three spots are mint, basil, and Peppermint, all part of the same family as catnip (Lamiaceae). This is why it is not surprising that the aroma of these plants that are so often used for cooking are also one of the smells that cats love. Thus, cats that are attracted by them show the same symptoms described in the section dedicated to catnip, activation, and mental stimulation. Again, they are also quite strong smells, so overpowering them with it will be counterproductive.

Floral aromas

Many cats feel trapped by the intense smell of some flowers like roses, daisies and lilies. But if this is the case of your cat, you should know that some of them are highly toxic if they ingest them, such as the last two mentioned. In this way, it is better to keep cats away from the actual plant to avoid a possible intoxication.

10 Smells that Attract Cats - Floral aromas

Fruit scents

Fruits such as strawberries, peach or watermelon, emit very distinctive and intense aromas that capture the attention of cats quickly. In this sense, certain scents can certainly attract cats and encourage them to try the food. Many of them, even have multiple benefits for their body, such as antioxidant, cleansing and diuretic properties, as well as fiber and lots of vitamins. However, not all fruits are attractive to these animals, since citrus fruit emits a really unpleasant scent for them.

If you notice that your cat is attracted by the smell of some fruits, don't miss our article with the list of fruits most recommended for cats and start to offer them as a reward.

Can cats smell toxic plants?

There needs to be a clarification when it comes to knowing what smells cats like. The reason is that many people don't realise that just because a cat likes the smell, it doesn't mean they will eat it. For example, lavender is a smell which attracts some cats, but ingestion is toxic and can lead to poisoning. Just as our fruit scented shampoo might smell lovely, but we don't take a gulp, cats can enjoy smells without eating their source.

However, unlike humans, cats are not always able to be discerning with what they eat. In this way, we need to ensure they do not ingest anything harmful. Use a diffuser to waft the scent or don't use scent bags which can be easily opened by the cat. If your cat does ingest something toxic, look out for any adverse symptoms and take them to a veterinarian if poisoning is likely.

10 Smells that Attract Cats - Can cats smell toxic plants?

What is your cat's favorite smell?

After reviewing the list of smells that attract cats the most, tell us, what the smell your cat loves the most is! We are sure that you have identified that there is a certain plant, food or object that has an attracting effect on your furry friend and whenever they identify it they quickly run towards it with enthusiasm.

Likewise, and as we have already been indicating throughout the article, not all mentioned odors are welcome for all cats, since each animal is a world and has their own tastes. In this way, it is possible that a feline adores the smell that thyme gives but rejects lavender completely. In this regard, we encourage you to check the post to explain 10 smells that cats hate.

If you want to read similar articles to 10 Smells that Attract Cats, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.


1. Bol, S., et al. (2017). Responsiveness of Cats (Felidae) to Silver Vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and Catnip (Nepeta cataria). BMC Veterinary Research, 13(70).

  • Goznalez Garcia, A.; Herranz Vega, M. S.; Sanchez - Fortun Herrero, a. does catnip deserve that name? Revista Complutense de Ciencias Veterinarias. 2017.ISSN: 1988-2688.
  • Alabort Amundarain, S.; Pineda González, S.; Olivares Moreno, A.; Ibáñez Talegón, M. generalized anxiety and intraspecific aggression in cats. Revista Complutense de Ciencias Veterinarias. 2017 ISSN: 1988-2688.
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Linda Klock
Just got 2-6 month old kittens,
the boy goes more insane with my chocolate than one does with a laser light! Also he drank my coffee (with cream) as well!!!!
Administrador AnimalWised
Hello Linda,

Thank you for your comment. We are not sure if you meant your kittens like the smell of chocolate or they ate it. We just want to be clear that chocolate contains a compound called theobromine which is toxic for cats and dogs. even a small amount can cause gastrointestinal problems, especially in kittens. We are replying just to make sure anyone reading is careful to not feed chocolate to cats.
Denise Motard
My last cat used to love chives. She would purr when chomping on a chive leaf, using it as cat grass. After a few leaves though she would throw up everything on the floor - not very pleasant for me!
Administrador AnimalWised
Hmmm, could be a similar reason why cat's eat grass:

My daughter’s cat loves catnip. I bought a fresh basil plant and couldn’t figure out why it was looking all broken and horrible in two days…Then I caught her! The cat LOVES the taste. She was using the plant like her personal treat, licking it and chewing the leaves! 😳
Administrador AnimalWised
Thanks for sharing this!
Do cats like the smell of Jasmine ?
I had no idea about the other plants!
I am looking for a sent that will attract my cat to the litter box instead of my office or behind my chair.
My brother had a cat that was obsessed with smelling his armpits. I mean she would really shove her head under his arm to take a nice long sniff. He said the funkier the better. On hot long days as soon as he got home she would be on him like it was a drug. Usually he had to push her away several times to get her to give it up. But when she was allowed to sniff until she was sated, she would pull her head out and do the “oh that’s a good smelly smell” face that only cats can do so well. I have had other cats do this to me and observes in many others too so I am appalled this didn’t make the list. Ok not really but I think it should be taken into consideration if y’all update the list
My kitty loves the smell of lavender smelling litter. He likes it enough that he will actually sleep in his litter box.
Erin Short
My kitty is unaffected by catnip but LOVES lavender. One of the dogs tore open a lavender sachet and she went crazy rolling in it.
Administrador AnimalWised
Yes, this is often the case. Some cats don't respond to catnip at all, so we need to use a trial and error method for these guys.
Hello could you please help me with suggestion on natueral remidiese to kill fleas and the eggs and larva on my cat? He is allergic to most medicated topicals. But I’m confused first it sounds like I found something then I keep reading and it don’t sound safe . HELP thank you theresa
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Theresa,

Hopefully this article will provide some assistance:

Joanne Purser
I thought cats were supposed to dislike citrus scents/flavours, but when i peal an orange, tangerine or similar my kitten will jump in my lap madly rub its head against my hands as I peel and then try to take the peel from me. I have avoided it from having any yet but worried in case I drop a portion and gets to it before I do. he also likes the smell of citrus flavoured drinks.

Are citrus fruits harmful to cats just in case one time I am not quick enough to pick up any fallen pieces? My cats and I live in the UK just thought I would mention that in case where they are native to makes a difference.
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Joanne,

It is very rare for a cat to like the smell of citrus, but there is an exception to every rule! The cat should not ingest the fruit as it won't be nutritious to them, but coming in contact won't be a problem.
my cat all of a sudden attacks us claws in and wont let go she will seem fine then all of a sudden lunges . what can cause this it is quite scary and painful?
They are overstimulated and have pent up energy. When this happens, back away slowly, say "No," firmly and don't engage with cat for about a minute. Then reset, by approaching kitty in play with a toy to redivert their attention. Regular play will help reduce further seemingly random attacks like these. Good luck!
My cat goes nuts over soap and deoderant. She has a fetish with armpits and will try and lick them if she can. I use drying racks for my clothes in winter and I can't hang washcloths down low where she can reach them or she will grab them and roll all over them.
Administrador AnimalWised
Thanks for sharing your experience Marie!
That’s too funny I just wrote a comment about my brothers cats addiction to armpit smell. And I had had other cats do it to. I bet its one of the best loved kitty smells but no talks about cause it feels like admitting to being stinky when really it means we have good pheromones
Ive seen so many things that say that cats hate rosemary but when I let my cat outside, the first thing he does is walk to the rosemary bush and he'll sit and sniff if for about 20 minutes straight. Do you know why this might be?
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Emily,

Cats in general do not like the strong odors of certain plants, but at the same time, every cat is an individual. As with humans, the same with cats: there is no accounting for taste.
Geoff Rickles
Great article!
How can you train your cat to not come and drink or try to when you have a drink out?
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Shirley,

A healthy cat will be able to self-regulate their water intake. We shouldn't sop them if they want to have a drink. If they are drinking out of our own glass, we can try to dissuade them not to by removing the glass and giving them positive reinforcement when they leave it alone. However, this is very difficult and you will practically be better suited to placing a coaster or something else on top of the glass.

To encourage them to drink water in general, check out this article:

Not important
I read that lavender is toxic to cats and can actually kill them
Cat (its my real name)
My kitten goes craaazy for men’s cologne. I recently bought a magazine which had an intensely smelling ad with a sample of a men’s cologne. My kitten raced over and lay on my magazine. She began to sniff it quickly and almost obsessively. She began to roll around on the magazine and rub her head on it! Now she’s fallen asleep on the magazine..
my cat goes bonkers at the smell of my pomade. i haven't been able to wear it since i got him because he won't leave me alone when i do.
Vincent Trombetta
Hi - I understand that certain varieties of Thyme are actually toxic to cats, e..g,, Spanish Thyme. You can check out the ASPCA website to learn more. I have two cats and I also use a lot of essential oils. Thyme contains phenols, which can be dangerous to cats. Other plants and oils that are high in phenols include Anise, Clove and Tea Tree. Hope this helps. Sincerely, Vince
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Vince,

Thank you for the comment. Although there is a herb which is sometimes called ‘Spanish thyme’ in the US, it is not a common name for it elsewhere. While it is true that both are part of the same family, they do not have the same properties. When we discuss thyme, we are talking about ‘Thymus vulgaris’ which is known simply as Thyme, garden thyme or common thyme. This is known to be non-toxic for both cats and dogs, something corroborated on the ASPCA website. Thank you again for helping us to clear up this issue in case anybody was unsure to which we were referring.
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10 Smells that Attract Cats