Felines & Fruit: Why Some Cats Hate Citrus

7 Jan 2024 2 min read No comments Uncategorized

Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, and limes are an integral part of our diets, loved for their tangy flavor and abundant health benefits. So, what about our feline friends? Can cats enjoy the burst of flavors and nutritional uptick citrus fruits provide? Interestingly, cats aren’t typically fond of citrus, and many experts advise against sharing these bright fruits with your pet. This article delves into why some cats hate citrus, exploring the continuum of the feline-citrus relationship from a biological and behavioural standpoint.

The Biological Explanation

The key to understanding why cats hate citrus lies in their biology. Cats, as obligate carnivores, have evolved to consume a diet primarily of meat. Their bodies are structured to derive maximum nutritional benefit from animal protein, with a digestive system fine-tuned to efficiently process meat.

In contrast, cats’ digestive systems are not designed to handle many plant-based foods, including citrus fruits. While healthy for humans, these fruits could be harmful to cats. Citrus fruits are acidic and can cause gastrointestinal upset in cats, including diarrhea or vomiting.

Further, some citrus fruits like grapefruits and lemons contain psoralens, compounds toxic to cats. Psoralen toxicity can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, depression, or, in severe cases, liver damage.

The Sensory Overload Factor

Cats possess a highly developed sense of smell, much more sophisticated than that of humans. They use this keen sense of smell to explore their environment, select food, and identify friend from foe.

Citrus fruits have a potent aroma, resulting from volatile compounds such as limonene and linalool. While pleasing to us, this strong scent can be overwhelming for cats — a sensory assault, if you will. To cats, citrus smells can be as offensive as foul odors are to humans, causing them to turn up their noses at citrus fruits.

Behavioral Reasons

The intense reaction cats exhibit when exposed to citrus can also be linked to a self-defense mechanism. In the wild, big cats mark their territory by spraying a scent. This scent sends a clear message to other creatures to stay away. Some experts suggest that the strong smell of citrus might mimic these territorial markers, triggering a fear response in domestic cats.

On the other hand, cats might associate the smell of citrus with an unpleasant experience. For example, if a cat was exposed to a citrus-based deterrent or cleaning agent while being scolded or during a distressing event, they likely developed a conditioned aversion to citrus.

Use of Citrus as a Deterrent

Interestingly, while cats’ disdain for citrus might seem a disadvantage, pet owners and behavioral experts have found a useful application for it — as a cat repellent. Whether it’s to keep a curious kitty from scratching furniture, venturing into dangerous areas, or for gardeners wanting to protect their plants from neighborhood cats, citrus can be a safe and natural deterrent. By using the peels or a diluted citrus oil, you can create ‘no-go’ zones for your adventurous cats without causing them harm.

In conclusion, our feline companions may not share our love for citrus, and that’s perfectly okay. From biological inefficiencies to sensory overload, various factors influence cats’ aversion to these fruits. And while it might be disappointing not to share a juicy orange with your purring companion, it’s comforting to know we’re respecting their natural preferences while keeping them safe and happy. So, the next time you’re enjoying a citrus treat, remember that your cat is likely happier with its regular, balanced diet.


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