DIY Cat Repellent Spray for Plants: Vet Tested and Approved

DIY cat repellent spray - a grey longhaired cat looking curiously at a potted plant, with a hand holding a red and white spray bottle, all isolated on a white background

Cats and plants share our living spaces, bringing joy, beauty, and a touch of the wild into our homes and gardens. Yet, sometimes our feline friends can be a little too curious about our green companions, leading to chewed leaves, upturned pots, and other mischief. 

DIY cat repellent sprays can be an economical and effective way to keep your cats from terrorizing your plants. Read on to learn more about a natural solution that can help protect your plants while ensuring the safety and well-being of your pets.

DIY Cat Repellent Spray: Why It Works

Cats are known for their keen sense of smell. The use of strong odors is a great way to capitalize on this sensitivity, offering a humane and non-invasive method to keep cats away from areas where they might cause harm to themselves or to household items.

Why Certain Scents Act as Repellents for Cats

The reason some scents repel cats lies in their olfactory system’s acute sensitivity. A cat’s nose is equipped with around 200 million olfactory receptors in their noses, significantly more than the approximately 5 million found in humans. This vast number of scent receptors enables cats to identify odors that are imperceptible to humans. 

The scents that act as repellents are usually those that are too intense for a cat’s sensitive nose or are evolutionarily conditioned to be avoided due to their association with potentially toxic substances.

DIY cat repellent spray - grey sphynx cat sitting in the middle of several potted plants

Natural Cat Repellent Scents You Can Find in Your Kitchen

Fortunately for cat owners, many natural scents are unpleasant for cats and can be used as an effective deterrent. Some common examples of natural ingredients include: 

  1. Vinegar: The acidic smell of vinegar is overpowering for cats and can effectively keep them away from sprayed areas. However, it should be diluted and used sparingly, as the strong smell can also be unpleasant for humans and potentially harmful if concentrated.
  2. Citrus (Lemon, Orange, Lime): Citrus scents are generally disliked by cats. The oils and compounds found in citrus fruits are too pungent for their sensitive noses. 
  3. Certain Spices: Spices such as cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and mustard are strong deterrents due to their intense smell. These should be used with caution, as they can be irritating to both cats and humans if inhaled or if they come into contact with the skin.
  4. Rosemary: This herb, either in plant form or as an essential oil, can deter cats due to its strong scent. Rosemary is often recommended as a natural repellent that’s safe for use around both cats and plants.
  5. Citronella, Lavender, Lemongrass, and Peppermint Essential Oils: Many essential oils are highly toxic to cats, and while I almost never recommend using any type of essential oil around cats, there are some that are safer than other that may be safe to use in very dilute amounts and when very selectively sprayed on plants to protect them (e.g. just a few drops per 2 cups of water).

When using scents to repel cats, always remember what works for one cat may not work for a different cat. What repels one cat might not affect another, so a period of trial and error using different repellent recipes may be necessary to find the most effective deterrent. 

Additionally, the safety of the cat should always be the priority. Some essential oils and compounds can be toxic to cats if ingested or if they come into prolonged contact with their skin or fur. Therefore, using these scents in moderation and in areas where cats are less likely to ingest or directly contact the substance is essential.

Pro Tips

  • Always introduce any new spray in a small area first to ensure it does not negatively affect your plants or pets.
  • Avoid applying any of these sprays to plants when in direct sunlight. Sunlight can have the effect of amplifying any damaging effects the spray might have. Applying in the evening hours is best, especially for outdoor plants.
  • Reapply the sprays every few days or after heavy rain. The scent will wear off over time, and reapplying will help maintain its effectiveness.
  • If your cat is particularly persistent, consider using a combination of these sprays to increase their effectiveness and cover a broader range of scents that cats dislike.
  • Assess your cat’s reaction to the spray. If they are very sensitive to a particular scent, having the scent in the house may make your cat miserable even if it is nowhere near the plant.

DIY Cat Repellent Spray for Plants, Furniture, and More

Creating homemade repellents can be a safe alternative to deter cats from unwanted areas without using harsh chemicals. Below are five different recipes for cat deterrent sprays that utilize common  ingredients. 

It’s important to remember that while these ingredients are generally safe, they should still be used cautiously and always test a small amount of the spray on an inconspicuous part of the item you are using it on to ensure it does not cause any damage.

1. Vinegar-Based Repellent Spray

Ingredients:

  • 1 part water
  • 1 part vinegar (white or apple cider)

Instructions:

  1. Mix the water and vinegar in a spray bottle.
  2. Shake well to combine the ingredients.
  3. Spray lightly on the soil of the plants or on the edges of pots. Avoid spraying directly on the plant leaves since vinegar is highly acidic and can damage them.

Vinegar, although safe, can be overwhelming to both cats and their owners if a lot of spray is used or if it is used frequently. If you find it too strong, just dilute it even further using two parts water to one part vinegar. 

DIY cat repellent spray - orange tabby at laying beside a potted plant looking at the camera

2. Citrus Repellent Spray

Ingredients:

  • Peel of 1 lemon
  • Peel of 1 orange
  • 2 cups of water

Instructions:

  1. Simmer the citrus peels in water for about 10 minutes.
  2. Allow the mixture to cool, then strain the peels from the water.
  3. Pour the citrus-infused water into a spray bottle.
  4. Spray around the base of the plant and the pot to deter cats. 

This spray can also be used directly on the plant to deter bugs such as aphids or ants. Add a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice to the mixture to increase its potency.

3. Rosemary Repellent Spray

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of water
  • A handful of fresh rosemary or 1 tablespoon of dried rosemary

Instructions:

  1. Boil the water with the rosemary leaves or add the dried rosemary to hot water and let it steep for 30 minutes.
  2. Allow the mixture to cool, then strain out the leaves.
  3. Pour the rosemary-infused water into a spray bottle
  4. Spray lightly on plants.

4. Lavender Essential Oil Spray

Ingredients:

  • 10-15 drops of lavender essential oil
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid hand soap or dish soap.
  • 2 cups of water

Instructions:

  1. Add the lavender essential oil to the water in a spray bottle.
  2. Shake the bottle vigorously to mix the oil and water.
  3. Spray around the plant area. Ensure the room is well-ventilated, and avoid direct application to the plant.

The dish soap in this recipe helps disperse the lavender oil in the water. Without the soap, the oil just sits on top of the water. Even so, make sure to give it a good shake each time you use it.

While I do not consider lavender essential oil itself to be safe to use on or around cats, a few drops of oil that is very diluted in water and very selectivity sprayed on plants usually does no harm. 

Stop use immediately if the spray does not deter the cat and especially if they lick or munch on the sprayed plant!

5. Cinnamon and Pepper Spray

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon of ground black pepper
  • 2 cups of water

Instructions:

  1. Mix the cinnamon and black pepper with the water in a spray bottle.
  2. Shake well to ensure the spices are distributed throughout the water.
  3. Spray the mixture around the plant soil and pot edges sparingly to avoid potential irritation to the cat’s senses.

The drawback to this recipe is that the ground pepper and cinnamon may clog the spray nozzle from time to time. You can get around this by simmering a few black peppercorns and a piece of cinnamon stick in water for a few minutes, then strain those out before pouring the water in a spray bottle.

These recipes provide a starting point for creating your own cat repellent sprays. Adjustments may be necessary based on your specific situation, the plants you are protecting, and your cat’s behavior.

Keep in mind that every cat is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Some cats may even be attracted to a scent that normally repels most cats! For example, peppermint is often used to repel cats, and yet some cats are inextricably attracted to it. 

DIY cat repellent spray - two cats sitting on a table in front of a bunch of potted plants

Application Method for Maximum Effectiveness

To ensure your DIY repellent is effective without harming your plants:

  • Lightly spray the plants’ foliage, soil, and pots. A fine mist is all you need.
  • Exercise caution with plants in direct sunlight. For outdoor plants, avoid spraying during the heat of the day. Evening application is best.
  • Always test the spray on a small portion of the plant first to ensure it does not cause any adverse effects.
  • Monitor your cat to ensure they are not attempting to lick or eat plants treated with the spray. Remember, the goal is to deter, not harm.

Wrapping Up

Protecting your plants from cats’ playful behavior can often be managed with DIY cat repellent sprays. These cost effective, homemade solutions help deter cats while keeping your pets and plants safe.  This method is simple, effective, and ensures all inhabitants of your living space are comfortable.

However, it’s important to always prioritize your cat’s safety and well-being when using any type of repellent. If you notice any adverse reactions or sensitivity in your cat, discontinue use of the repellent and consult with your veterinarian for further guidance.

Happy gardening, and may your living spaces thrive in harmony

Disclaimer: This article is intended for information purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult your veterinarian if you have specific concerns about your pet’s health.

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins DVM PhD.

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.