Why Do Cats Like The Smell of Bleach?

Does your cat have a strange attraction to the subtle vapors of bleach after something has been cleaned, whether it’s on your hands, a piece of clothing, or surface? Many cats do, so do not be alarmed!

One day I was using bleach to clean the bathroom and some of it went on the floor. I quickly and thoroughly wiped it up so my cat would not get into it. Because the subtle odor of bleach was still there, my cat was sniffing the area with his mouth open and started rolling on it as if it were catnip! Weird, right? Concerned that my cat was going crazy, or he was the only cat that responded this way, I had to do research. But first, I took him away from the area!

Why Do Cats Like The Smell of Bleach? Overview

Let’s be honest, researchers are not certain what causes cats to react to the smell of bleach. However, researchers describe it as a “cat attractant”. It triggers the same biological pathway of their brain that other cat attractants trigger such as sex pheromones and catnip.

There is no connection between the chemical structure of sodium hypochlorite (bleach) and other cat attractants. Researchers are not sure what is it about bleach that attract cats. Whether it’s one of the many compounds within bleach, such as chlorine, or if it is an organic compound found in your house that is reacting with bleach and releasing a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC).

There is also no proof that it behaves as a drug to cats either.

Researchers do know that cats appear to respond to bleach in the same way they respond to catnip. Both substance produce the same behaviors which are commonly triggered by scent receptors. So let’s take a close look at catnip…

The oil found in catnip called nepetalactone is found to produce the same euphoric effects as sex pheromones… causing your cat to be playful, affectionate, and roll around without even ingesting it! It is further proof that nepetalactone from catnip is an “artificial” feline sex hormone, rather than a “cat drug” because kittens are not affected by cat nip and sex pheromones until they begin to reach sexual maturity.

Though there is no link between the chemical makeup of bleach and nepetalactone, researchers are confident that it acts on the same biological pathway to the brain as sex pheromones, ultimately producing a lovable, euphoric, and playful kitty.

The response cats have to bleach, catnip, and certain pheromones are specific to cats because they have a more acute sense of smell compared to humans, as well as scent receptors that are specific to to their species.

Also, cats also have an extra scent organ that humans do not possess called the the vomeronasal gland which is located in the roof of the mouth. This is why cats slightly open their mouth when they smell something interesting. The vomeronasal gland carries the aroma of the cat attractant, in this case the bleach vapors or VOCs, to the hypothalamus in the brain, triggering a behavioral response similar to how they react to sex pheromones.

This chemical mimicry is common in nature and manmade products. For example, synthetic fragrances are designed to smell like specific fruits and flowers because the molecules are similar in conformation.

An Alternative Theory- Marking Their Territory

It is also believed that cats perceive the scent of bleach cleaner, or ammonia, as the scent of urine from other cats or something else that marked their territory. Although cats are perceived to behaving highly affectionate because of the rubbing, licking, and drooling, it could just be that they are aggressively scenting the area with their own scents. The unknown invader aroma (bleach), is driving them crazy!

Do “Cat Attractants” Such as Bleach Make Your Cat High?

Your cat is obviously enjoying themselves when they get a whiff of bleach, the same way they would when “using” catnip. So, do these cat attractants make them high? Can they become addicted to bleach or catnip? According to experts it is not a drug, they are not hallucinating, and are completely aware of their surroundings. They are just generally happier.

Your cat developing a catnip or bleach sniffing addiction is not something that you should be concerned about either, though I would highly discourage your cat from smelling the bleach vapors. Although the subtle vapors from a clean and dried surface are not harmful, it is better safe than sorry. If the vapors are intense or there is actually bleach on the surface, put your cat in a different room until it is all cleaned up. Potent vapors can damage lung cells and ingestion of bleach is very toxic.

Catnip does not have any known long-term effects on a cat’s brain or any other part of their body. If something in bleach is truly a chemical imposter of catnip and sex pheromones, the same could be said in that it is non addictive too.

The behaviors your cat displays after sniffing catnip or bleach is short lived. They will “snap out” of the behavior after about ten minutes. They do not develop any sort of tolerance to it, and can get the same effect 30 minutes later, but will likely not seek it out again.

Not All Cats Respond to Bleach (and Cat Nip)

Some cats go crazy over bleach while others do not. Same with catnip. Why is that? Same reason why humans, after eating asparagus, can smell it in their urine and others cannot- the trait is inherited. Meaning that some cats acquired the gene for receptors specific to compounds found in bleach and catnip.

Studies show that about 60 percent of cats will react behaviorally to catnip, and some will have a more playful reaction versus a relaxed reaction than others. Though the effects of bleach are not as well studied, people have found that the Ragdoll breed of cats are especially prone to reacting to bleach.

Be Careful With Bleach

Everyone who took home economics in primary school should know that when you mix bleach with ammonia, you create chlorine gas. Which is highly toxic to humans and animals.

Though, you probably did not realize that the chemical in cat urine called urea can be converted into ammonia with the help of bacterial enzymes once exposed to the air. So therefore if you clean cat urine with bleach or bleach-based products, you may create enough chlorine gas to be harmful to you and your cat. So, please do not clean up your cat’s messes or areas around the litterbox with bleach! I wish home economics mentioned that bit of info!

Instead of bleach based products, or ammonia which may cause your cat to scent the area again, use enzymatic cleaners such as UrineOFF, designed to block the scent of urine and remove stains without creating harmful gasses.

Of course, it is important to mention that when you do clean with bleach, to put your cat in a separate room, and to make sure that the area you cleaned is well rinsed and dried. Also make sure your hands are well rinsed too. When your cat is released from the room be sure they do not have access to any cleaning supplies.

Why Do Cats Like The Smell of Bleach? Final Thoughts.

Certainly more research needs to be done on this topic. For now, Researchers believe that cats like the smell of bleach because something in the bleach, or a volatile organic compound created from a bleach reaction is mimicking a cat attractant such as catnip and sex pheromones. This creates the same biological effect and behavior as the latter two cat attractants.

Bleach is toxic, and catnip and sex pheromones are not. So even though your cat is acting very amusingly, and exhibiting kitten like behavior as a result of the bleach aroma, please substitute it with something else such as catnip.

Don’t worry too much if the area cleaned with bleach is well rinsed and dried, since the subtle aroma of bleach is not dangerous. However, you still do not want to encourage your cat to engage with it, because they may seek it out in your cabinets later. If that is the case please lock your cleaning supplies away!

To prevent even more danger, if you clean cat urine, do not clean it with bleach as it can emit chlorine gas.

Not all cats react to bleach, so I’m curious to hear if your cat reacts to bleach? Feel free to answer in the comment section below, and check out our newest articles here.

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