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Five things that cats hate

Grey cat sitting on a chair shooting a disdainful look at the camera
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Our feline friends make wonderful companions, but there are some things that cats hate that can quickly put you in your kitty’s bad books.

Unlike humans, cats can’t sit us down and explain to us all the things we’re doing that are driving them crazy. Instead, cat communication is more complex, and the way they express their likes and dislikes can easily go unnoticed by those of us that aren’t well versed in kitty lingo.

If you’ve ever found yourself looking at the back of your cat as they haughtily hightail it off into another room after an unknown discretion on your part, then you’re likely familiar with how much work it can take to get back into their good graces.

The good news is, you can avoid being on the other end of your cat’s withering looks by understanding a few of the things that cats hate. Tuck these gems away in your back pocket and you’ll find yourself spending more time on the right side of your feline friend.

1) Loud noises

Whether it’s a thunderstorm, fireworks, or children yelling, loud noises can cause cats to feel seriously stressed out. According to the crew at Vetstreet, noise pollution of any kind affects cats more than humans and dogs because they can hear higher tones.

Cats can hear sounds about 1.6 octaves higher than humans and one octave higher than dogs, which can drive them crazy and cause them to retreat to quiet spaces. Excessive or loud noises, such as vacuum cleaners or a kettle boiling, cause what is known as acoustic stress, so it’s important to be mindful of sound when your kitty is in the room.

We can’t always avoid loud noises, but there are some things you can do to minimize potential distress to your kitty. If you’re going to be vacuuming or hosting a gathering, consider shutting your cat away in another room. Move their cat bed in there and create a relaxing retreat away from the hustle and bustle. Lower the volume of the TV if your kitty is nearby, keep them away from washing machines and dryers, and bring them inside during firework season. 

2) Certain smells

Ragdoll cat standing outside in amongst potted herbs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re wondering why your cat always flees the room every time you burn essential oils or start spritzing the kitchen with citrus-scented cleaning products, it can be helpful to know that one of the things that cats hate is intense odors.

A cat’s sense of smell is roughly 14 times more sensitive than ours, so what smells pleasing to our nose can be a major source of irritation to theirs. By learning which scents they can’t stand, you can avoid upsetting your kitty and make your living environment a pleasant space for both of you.

Here are a few of the scents that your cat might be averse to:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Cleaning products
  • Scented litter
  • Citrus fruits
  • Certain herbs - rosemary, mint, and thyme in particular
  • Some essential oils - lavender, geranium, and any menthol scent 
  • Spices - especially pepper, cinnamon, and chili

While you may want to avoid the above where possible, knowing what smells your kitty hates can also come in handy. If you’ve invested in one of the best cat scratching posts and still find your cat prefers attacking your furniture, spritzing it with a scent they don’t like can act as an excellent deterrent. 

3) Change

Just like most humans, cats are creatures of habit who don’t do well with change. Whether it’s something seemingly minor, like swapping their cat litter over to another brand, or a big change such as welcoming a new baby into the family or moving house, any change in their environment or daily routine can cause them to stress out. 

According to a study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University, sudden changes can cause cats to pretend to be sick as a way of letting their owners know they’re upset. The experiment showed that cats who experienced disruptions to their routines were three times more likely to act sick than cats who didn’t experience change. Common behaviors included urinating or defecating outside the litter box, vomiting, and decreased food intake.

Cats hate change for many of the same reasons that we do. Change can bring with it a feeling of loss of control, a fear of the unknown, and a perceived loss of status if a new cat or human has entered their territory. 

While change is a normal part of life, knowing that it freaks your kitty out as much as it might freak you out, can help you be more sensitive to their needs. Where possible, introduce new changes slowly to give them time to adjust, maintain comforting routines, and use play as a form of therapy. The best interactive cat toys are particularly good for keeping your kitty engaged and distracted during times of change.

4) Car rides

Cat with wide eyes inside carrier in the car

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You may have heard of the puppy cat phenomenon, which sees some felines acting like their canine companions. Swimming in the sea, hiking in the mountains, and enjoying the wind whipping through their whiskers during a car ride is common among certain breeds, such as Bengals, but for most of our feline friends, it’s a big no-no.

It only takes a short drive to the vet’s office for most pet parents to figure out just how much their cat hates being in the car. Meowing, urinating, or even vomiting, are all signs of stress and anxiety, and while your kitty does need to buckle up now and again, for most breeds you want to avoid unnecessary car trips.

When you do need to take a car trip with your furkid, wrap them in a cozy blanket before putting them in their carrier and cover the carrier with another blanket to make it dark. This helps create a more secure environment by limiting stimuli that can cause stress and anxiety, leading to a calmer cat. 

5) Tummy rubs

Who doesn’t love a tummy rub? If you’ve ever found yourself thinking this while trying to roll your kitty onto their back so you can give them some tummy love, then you might not know that our feline friends aren’t into this form of affection as much as we think they are. 

Unlike dogs, who love nothing more than a good belly rub, cats are quite happy to go without. According to Lena Provoost, an animal behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, the hair follicles on the belly are hypersensitive, so petting them there can be overstimulating. But that’s not the only reason.

“Many people think that when cats roll over on their backs, they’re acting like dogs — that they’re showing submission,” says Dr. Cindy Houlihan, “But it’s actually a defensive position.” It turns out that in the wild, cats roll onto their backs when they can’t flee from a fight and want to be able to use their claws and teeth to protect themselves from predators.

While that may explain their behavior in the wild, why would they act the same way with someone who they surely know loves them? According to Houlihan, it’s a trust test. “The abdomen is a vulnerable area for cats because that’s where all of their vital organs are located,” she says. “So exposing it is a form of communication — they want to see what you might do.”

Suss your kitty out slowly by first admiring them when they’re lying on their back without reaching to touch them. You can slowly progress to stroking one of their front paws and if that gesture is accepted, you can try to touch their tummy. It’s a huge compliment if your cat lets you stroke their belly, but don’t be offended if they don’t allow it. Every cat is different and the most important thing is to respect their boundaries.

Want to learn more about your feline friend? Then you'll love our pieces on why do cats like to knock things over? and 10 facts about cats that you never knew

Kathryn Rosenberg

Kathryn is a freelance writer with a passion for creating health and wellness, travel and wildlife content. Originally from New Zealand, her nomadic lifestyle has her currently fur baby-less. She scratches her pet parent itch by stealing frequent cuddles with any neighbourhood cat kind enough to indulge her.