cat rubbing face on window

Cats are very sensitive to scents and odours in their environment. Using scents that have a calming effect on cats can help them adjust to their environment, engage in social interactions, and therefore increase their chance of adoption. See Smell/Olfactory for Stress Reduction for scents used to elicit calming behaviours.

Scents can be used to provide an enriching activity or experience and to enhance normal curiosity and investigative behaviours. For the purpose of enrichment, we have various scent options for use in the animal centre.

The retention of familiar odours – rather than the addition of novel odours – may be more beneficial to cats. This is why we use the spot clean protocol and leave familiar objects and familiar scents intact within the cats’ cage.

stop sign iconOnly use scents in small quantities because they can become overwhelming.

Scent of the Day  cat icon

Click here for a printable version

The following has been adapted from material on the ASPCApro website

Incorporating this enrichment activity is as easy as introducing a different scent as part of your daily kennel cleaning. You can include the bottle or shaker containing the scent of the day on the cart with your kennel cleaning supplies.

You can also use a designated enrichment cart or container such as a tote or plastic carry-all that contains the various enrichment items for the kennels as well as a copy of your enrichment schedule.

light bulb iconCheck out warehouse stores to obtain extracts and spices in bulk sizes.

stop sign iconIf you intend to try aromatherapy extracts and oils, be sure to research these carefully before using them in the shelter. Some aromatherapy substances are irritants or even toxic to animals (although more likely to affect cats than dogs).

See Smell/Olfactory Stress Reduction for scents used to elicit calming behaviour

  • Spray bottles and containers with shaker tops
  • Cooking extracts, such as vanilla, peppermint, almond, coconut, etc.
  • Sweet spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, cardamom
  • Lavender, valerian or honeysuckle
What to Do:
  • Prepare the scents
  • Assemble as many spray bottles as you have liquid extracts
  • Fill each bottle nearly full with water, and then add a small amount of extract, and mix. Remember that cats have a keen sense of smell, so the concentration of extract should be very small
  • If you have dry spices, transfer each to a container with a shaker top
  • Lightly spray a toy, or paper wad, with the diluted extract. If the scent of the day is a dry spice, sprinkle very small amounts on bedding or toys

If you find that some scents are not well received, remove them from the rotation, and try something else. If individual cats do not interact with certain scents, or display aversion toward them, replace with another and remember to record this on the enrichment schedule.

Be mindful of the effects that residual cigarette smoke, perfumes, or other scented personal products may have on cats.

Catnip Toys  cat icon

The following has been adapted from material on the ASPCApro website

Catnip is the only scent to which cats are proven to react favourably. Catnip can promote play and activity. Because catnip can make cats aggressive and unpredictable, it should be used under close supervision.

cat playing with catnip toy

Find instructions on how to make a catnip pillow.

Catnip can also be offered in the form of catnip scented bubbles.

Artificial Pheromones  cat icon

Cats that feel comfortable and safe in an environment rub their cheeks up against surfaces and mark them with a feline facial pheromone. When entering or being housed in an Animal Centre, the level of stress a cat may be experiencing can inhibit this behaviour and the production of this comforting pheromone. Fortunately, we can mimic this familiar pheromone by using a synthetic imitation called Feliway®.

Feliway® comes in 2 options: a spray or a plug-in diffuser.

Feliway® spray can provide targeted comforting support for any cat that is placed in a stressful environment. Within an Animal Centre, it can be sprayed on a surface or object, in a carrier or on a towel in a cage, but should never be sprayed directly on the cat or in the air. Before introducing the cat to the surface/object, it is advised that you allow 15 minutes for the alcohol to evaporate from the surface. The spray can be used alone or in combination with the Feliway® Diffuser.



Feliway® diffusers are plugged in and disperse pheromones continuously. In an animal centre they would be most beneficial in an exam room, observation room, isolation room or even an adoption room. They should not be placed near open windows, air vents, or under tables or shelves. It can be used alone or in combination with the Feliway® spray.

Photo courtesy of Ceva

Find more information on Feliway®

Hide and Seek Egg Carton  cat icon

To encourage enrichment using the olfactory sense, simply hide treats and encourage the cat to find them. Using an empty egg carton or cardboard drink holder, place a desirable treat into the holding compartments. Place jingle balls or ping pong balls on top of the treats. Allow the cat to discover by manipulating the balls and exposing the treats underneath.

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