What Makes Cats Gag When They Smell It?

Do you consider yourself a cat person? If so, then you’ve probably seen your furry companion’s over-the-top reaction of gagging after smelling something truly repulsive. You may have even wondered why cats have such an intense response to unpleasant odors when we humans can simply pinch our noses and move on with our day. Well, the answer lies in the intricate anatomy of a cat’s nose.

Cats possess an extraordinary olfactory system that is approximately fourteen times stronger than that of humans. This heightened sense of smell allows them to detect even the most subtle scents in their environment. It’s important to note that this acute sense of smell is a survival mechanism for cats in the wild, where they use it to hunt prey and avoid danger.

So, what causes cats to gag at foul smells? The answer lies within their vomeronasal organ, also known as Jacobson’s organ. This tiny structure is located on the roof of their mouths and is responsible for detecting pheromones – chemicals secreted by other animals, including cats themselves. When a cat encounters a particularly noxious odor, its vomeronasal organ sends a message to the brain that triggers an involuntary gag reflex.

But don’t be fooled by their aversion to bad smells – this delicate sense of smell also makes it possible for cats to appreciate pleasant aromas like catnip or freshly cooked fish. Want to learn more about how your feline friend’s superpowered sniffer works? Let’s dive deeper into the science behind it all and discover just how amazing these creatures truly are.

What is a Cat’s Sense of Smell?

Well, it turns out that cats have an extraordinary sense of smell. They possess over 200 million scent receptors in their nose, which is a whopping 14 times more than humans. This allows them to detect scents that are completely undetectable to us, such as pheromones and faint odors.

But that’s not all. Cats also have a unique organ in their mouth called the Jacobson’s organ, which allows them to pick up on chemical signals that aren’t detected by their regular olfactory system. When cats come across a particularly strong scent, they will often open their mouth slightly and make a grimacing face as they draw in air to activate the Jacobson’s organ.

While cats are usually attracted to pleasant smells, some scents can make them gag or even vomit. For instance, household chemicals like bleach or disinfectant sprays produce strong odors that can cause cats to gag. Similarly, ammonia found in cleaning products and urine can irritate a cat’s respiratory system and trigger a gag reflex.

Cats also have a keen sense of smell when it comes to food. Strong-smelling foods like onions or garlic can be repulsive to them. Additionally, spoiled or rotten food can make cats gag and vomit.

As responsible cat owners, it’s crucial to recognize the smells that could potentially harm our furry friends. If you notice your cat exhibiting distress when exposed to a particular scent, it’s best to remove them from the area and consult with your veterinarian.

Ammonia: A Common Trigger for Cats

One such trigger that can cause distress to our furry friends is ammonia. This colorless gas has a pungent odor and is commonly found in household cleaning products, urine, and feces. But what makes ammonia so dangerous for cats, and what can we do to protect them?

Cats have an extraordinary sense of smell that allows them to detect even the faintest odors and chemical signals. However, this also means they are more sensitive to certain scents compared to humans. Ammonia is one such scent that can trigger a gag reflex in cats due to their acute sense of smell.

Prolonged exposure to ammonia can be harmful to cats and cause respiratory problems such as coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, it can even lead to pneumonia or death. To keep our feline friends safe, cat owners need to be vigilant and avoid using harsh cleaning products containing ammonia around their furry friends.

Providing clean litter boxes is also crucial in preventing any health problems related to ammonia exposure. Cats may gag when exposed to ammonia due to their natural instinct to avoid substances that resemble urine or feces. Therefore, cat owners should ensure that their cats have access to clean litter boxes and regularly clean them.

In addition, if your cat shows any signs of respiratory distress or other health issues related to ammonia exposure, it is important to seek prompt veterinary care. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose any underlying health issues and provide appropriate treatment.

Household Chemicals and Strong Odors

This is because cats have an extraordinary sense of smell that can detect even the faintest odors, making them more sensitive to certain scents than humans.

Household chemicals and strong odors can be toxic to cats, causing them to become ill or experience discomfort. Ammonia and bleach are two of the most common culprits that make cats react. Ammonia, found in window cleaners, floor cleaners, and bathroom cleaners, irritates a cat’s respiratory system when inhaled. Bleach, often used as a disinfectant in many cleaning products, releases strong fumes that can cause coughing, gagging, and difficulty breathing in cats.

It’s not just cleaning products that affect cats. Strong odors from perfumes and air fresheners can also make cats gag. Cigarette smoke is another odor that can be overwhelming for cats and cause an adverse reaction. While these scents may not be toxic to cats, they should still be avoided if possible as they can cause discomfort.

If you notice your cat having a reaction to a particular scent or product, it’s crucial to remove them from the area immediately. If your cat continues to show signs of distress, consult with your veterinarian. They will provide guidance on ensuring your cat’s health and safety.

Food Scents that can Make Cats Gag

While some cats will eat anything you put in front of them, others can be quite fussy and refuse to eat certain foods. Did you know that certain food scents can make your cat gag? As an expert in this field, I’m here to give you the lowdown on which food scents to avoid.

Cats have a highly sensitive sense of smell, which is about 14 times stronger than that of humans. They use their sense of smell to identify food and distinguish between what they like and dislike. While cats are known for their love for fish, not all food scents are appealing to them.

One of the most common food scents that can make cats gag is citrus. Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, and limes have a strong scent that cats find overwhelming. The scent of citrus is so strong that it can even repel cats from coming near the food. Therefore, it is essential to avoid feeding your cat any food with citrus in it.

Vinegar is another food scent that can make cats gag. It has a pungent smell that can be off-putting for cats. If your cat is sensitive to the smell of vinegar, they may refuse to eat any food with this ingredient. Therefore, it’s best to steer clear of any pickled foods or cat foods that contain vinegar.

Onions and garlic are also ingredients that can cause cats to gag. These foods contain thiosulphate, which can cause anemia in cats and lead to other health problems. So, it’s crucial to keep your cat away from any food containing onions or garlic.

Finally, some cats may not tolerate dairy products such as cheese and milk well. While most cats enjoy these foods, some may gag or vomit when they come in contact with dairy products. If your cat has an intolerance to lactose or a sensitivity to dairy products, it’s best to avoid feeding them any food containing dairy.

Toxic Plants and their Effects on Cats

This curiosity can sometimes lead them to dangerous situations, especially when it comes to toxic plants. Toxic plants may look pretty and harmless, but they contain harmful chemicals that can cause a variety of symptoms in cats, including gagging, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Some of the most common toxic plants for cats include lilies, azaleas, tulips, daffodils, and chrysanthemums. Lilies are particularly dangerous for cats as they contain toxins that can cause kidney failure if ingested. Even a small amount of lily pollen or plant material can be deadly for a cat. Azaleas also contain toxins that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as more serious symptoms such as seizures and coma.

Tulips and daffodils contain toxins in their bulbs that can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms in cats. While chrysanthemums contain pyrethrins which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures in cats.

It’s important for cat owners to be aware of the toxic plants in their homes and yards and to take steps to keep their cats away from them. Here are some tips to help you keep your furry friend safe:

  • Identify the toxic plants in your home and yard: Do some research to find out which plants are toxic to cats and make a list of them.
  • Remove the toxic plants: If you have any of these plants in your home or yard, consider removing them entirely. This is the best way to ensure that your cat won’t accidentally ingest them.
  • Keep the toxic plants out of reach: If you can’t remove the plants entirely, make sure they are kept in areas that are inaccessible to your cat. This can be done by placing them on high shelves or in rooms that your cat doesn’t have access to.
  • Be vigilant: Keep an eye on your cat and watch for any signs of illness. If you suspect that your cat has ingested a toxic plant, seek veterinary care immediately.

Symptoms of Gagging in Cats

If you notice your cat gagging frequently, it’s important to take note of any other symptoms they may be experiencing. Gagging in cats can be a sign of an underlying health issue, and it’s crucial to address the problem promptly to avoid more severe complications.

One of the most common causes of gagging in cats is hairballs. These pesky balls of fur form when a cat ingests too much hair during grooming, leading to irritation and inflammation in the digestive tract. As the body tries to expel the hairball, it can result in gagging and vomiting. If you observe your cat coughing up hairballs or grooming excessively, don’t hesitate to consult your vet for advice.

Respiratory infections or allergies are another potential culprit behind frequent gagging episodes in cats. If your furry friend is sneezing, wheezing, or experiencing a runny nose or eyes in addition to gagging, it’s crucial to address these issues promptly. Delayed treatment can result in more severe health problems.

It’s also essential to note that gagging in cats can be a symptom of more severe health conditions such as heart disease or cancer. Therefore, keeping an eye out for other concerning symptoms is crucial. If your cat is exhibiting any abnormal behavior such as difficulty breathing or lethargy along with frequent gagging episodes, seek veterinary care without delay.

How to Prevent Your Cat from Gagging when they Smell Something

Cats have an incredibly sensitive sense of smell, which can be a blessing and a curse. While their keen sense of smell allows them to detect even the faintest of odors, it can also lead to gagging and discomfort when exposed to unpleasant smells. If your cat is prone to gagging when they encounter certain smells, here are some steps you can take to prevent it.

First and foremost, keeping your home clean and free of odors is essential. This means regularly cleaning litter boxes, washing bedding, and vacuuming carpets and furniture. Additionally, removing any sources of unpleasant smells such as spoiled food or dirty laundry can create a more pleasant environment for your cat. Using air purifiers or deodorizers can also help eliminate odors and improve the overall air quality in your home.

It’s also important to pay attention to your cat’s diet. Certain types of food may cause digestive issues that lead to gagging and other discomforts. Providing high-quality food that is appropriate for their age and health needs is crucial. Furthermore, ensuring that fresh water is available at all times can help keep your cat hydrated and healthy.

If you’ve taken these preventative measures and your cat continues to gag when exposed to certain smells, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian. Gagging can be a sign of an underlying health issue such as respiratory problems or allergies. Your vet can perform a thorough examination and recommend appropriate treatment options.

When to Seek Veterinary Care for Gagging in Cats

While occasional gagging may not be a cause for alarm, it is imperative to recognize when it is necessary to seek veterinary care.

If your cat experiences frequent gagging episodes, coupled with symptoms such as vomiting, difficulty breathing, or lethargy, it is crucial to seek veterinary care immediately. These could be indications of a serious underlying condition such as respiratory infection, asthma, or even a foreign object lodged in the throat.

In addition, if your cat suddenly starts gagging and refusing to eat or drink, this could also be a red flag that something is wrong and requires veterinary attention. Cats who do not consume enough fluids are at risk of dehydration that can occur rapidly; hence any changes in eating or drinking habits should be addressed promptly.

While hairballs are a common issue among many cats, excessive hairball-related symptoms such as frequent gagging or vomiting may require veterinary attention. Your veterinarian can suggest potential treatment options to help alleviate hairball-related symptoms.

It is important to note that gagging can have various underlying issues ranging from mild to severe. Therefore, it is best not to take any chances with your pet’s health. If your cat experiences frequent or severe gagging episodes, do not hesitate to seek veterinary care. Your veterinarian can help identify the root cause of the gagging and provide appropriate treatment options to help your furry friend feel better.


To wrap up, it’s clear that cats have an exceptional sense of smell that can pick up on even the slightest scent. However, this heightened sensitivity also means they are more susceptible to certain odors that can cause them to gag or vomit.

Household chemicals like ammonia and bleach produce strong smells that can trigger a cat’s gag reflex. Similarly, food items like onions, garlic, dairy products, and citrus fruits may not sit well with feline taste buds. Toxic plants including lilies, azaleas, tulips, daffodils, and chrysanthemums can also cause frequent gagging episodes in cats.

If your furry friend experiences persistent gagging combined with other symptoms such as vomiting or difficulty breathing, don’t hesitate to seek veterinary care right away. Prompt treatment is essential to prevent further health complications.

As responsible pet owners, we must be mindful of the scents that could potentially harm our cats. Maintaining a clean home environment free of unpleasant odors and removing sources of toxic plants are some steps we can take to keep our feline friends safe from triggers for gagging.