Chelsea McKimmie
Chelsea McKimmie

Buckle up, besties...this one's a long boi! 


Cats, with their mystique and elegance, hold a special place in the hearts of pet lovers worldwide. As guardians of these graceful creatures, it's our responsibility to ensure their well-being and comfort. This commitment extends to the selection of grooming products, where the choice to avoid scented products is both deliberate and necessary. Let's delve into the reasons, focusing on the sensitivity of cats to certain compounds commonly found in fragrances.

The Unique Biology of Cats

Cats stand apart in the animal kingdom, thanks in part to their distinctive physiology. As obligate carnivores, their livers lack the glucuronyl transferase enzyme, among others, leaving cats less equipped to break down certain chemicals, especially those originating from plants. 


Cats' diets in the wild consist primarily of small prey animals, which provide them with a high-protein, moderate-fat, and low-carbohydrate diet. This diet does not require the same set of enzymes that omnivores or herbivores need to break down plant-based compounds. As a result, cats have a reduced need for and hence lack certain enzymes that aid in the metabolism of various substances, including some that are found in plants.


Glucuronidation, the process facilitated by glucuronyl transferase, is a major metabolic pathway in many animals, including humans, that helps in detoxifying and eliminating various substances, including drugs, toxins, and hormones, by making them more water-soluble. The limited ability of cats to glucuronidate is notable for several reasons:

  1. Toxin and Drug Sensitivity: It makes them particularly sensitive to certain medications and toxins, including those found in many plants and essential oils (like limonene). Since cats cannot efficiently process and eliminate these substances, they are more prone to toxicity.

  2. Dietary Implications: Their diet as carnivores doesn't naturally expose them to many of the compounds that require glucuronidation for metabolism, which is why the evolutionary pressure to maintain or develop a broad spectrum of detoxification enzymes for plant compounds has been low.

  3. Clinical Care: This has important implications for veterinary care, as certain medications that are safe for other animals (and humans) can be harmful to cats due to their unique metabolism.

Fragrances and Cats

Fragrances, whether natural or synthetic, are complex mixtures of numerous chemical compounds. While they can add pleasant aromas to our lives, they can pose hidden dangers to cats. Essential oils, for example, which are commonly used in natural fragrances, may contain compounds like limonene, linalool and eugenol, which are particularly challenging for cat liver enzymes to metabolize. Even in small amounts, compounds like limonene can cause:

  • Toxicity: Exposure can result in poisoning, with symptoms ranging from weakness, vomiting to severe respiratory distress and potentially lead to a decreased ability to regulate body temperature.
  • Allergic Reactions: Cats may develop allergies, manifesting as skin irritation, dermatitis, or more systemic effects.
  • Neurological symptoms: High levels of exposure can lead to tremors, weakness, and incoordination.

Given these risks, the importance of avoiding scented products in cat grooming cannot be overstated. ESPECIALLY anything with citrus. 

Other compounds to avoid:

Cinnamon Oil (cinnamaldehyde)

Wintergreen Oil (Methyl salicylate)

Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Pine Oil (α-pinene and β-pinene)

Plus many more! Here's a table listing some of the natural and synthetic compounds you might find in various fragrances, as well as some solvents and preservatives:


Synthetic compounds can sometimes have chemical structures similar to natural oils. (I wrote another Blog post about that HERE)


Because they can't break down certain chemicals, those chemicals also build up in their system. This means that, while you might see mild to no reaction from one spritz of cologne, the continued use leads to an accumulation of these compounds in a cat's body over time. Chronic exposure can result in more pronounced and severe health issues ranging from liver toxicity and neurological problems to respiratory difficulties and potentially life-threatening conditions. It is important to understand that cats' reactions to repeated chemical exposures might not be immediately apparent and can develop into more serious conditions as the substances build up in their system.


Awareness among cat owners and groomers about the potential hazards of scented products is crucial. By choosing fragrance-free grooming options, we prioritize the health and safety of our feline friends, ensuring their grooming experience is both pleasant and safe.



Shniff's Commitment to Feline Safety

At Shniff, we understand and respect the delicate nature of cats. Our approach to grooming products is informed by a commitment to safety and the well-being of all pets. This is why we strongly advocate for the use of unscented products in cat grooming, guided by the latest research and best practices in pet care.


While this is a complicated and nuanced topic, often with varying degrees of disagreement among professionals, the decision to avoid scented grooming products for cats is a reflection of our broader commitment to pet safety and health. By embracing fragrance-free products, we safeguard our beloved feline companions against potential harm. It's a small but significant way to honor the trust they place in us, ensuring they continue to thrive in our care. 

In the realm of pet grooming, especially for our feline family members, less is indeed more. Rarely do the benefits outweigh the risk! Opting for unscented products is not just a precaution—it's a manifestation of our love and respect for the unique needs of cats.

Drop a comment if you agree, disagree or would like me to explore this topic more in other Blogs!

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