Why Do Cats Like Bleach?

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Originally published Aug 10, 2016

Why Do Cats Like BleachA reader recently shared a story that might sound very familiar to other Ragdoll cat owners: someone in your house has been cleaning using bleach, and even though they wash up thoroughly, your Ragdoll kitty immediately and inexplicably begins to go a little crazy, sniffing, rubbing and rolling all over anything that smells like bleach, from hands, to mops, to laundry. What in the world is going on?

If you have experienced this scenario and wondered why does my cat roll in bleach? Are they having some kind of strange reaction? You are not alone. This is a surprisingly common occurrence among cats. While even the experts can’t totally explain this, here is a little bit of information to help you understand this odd phenomenon.

Why do cats love bleach?

The most common explanation is that there might be something in the chemical makeup of bleach that attracts cats, such as chlorine. But that raises the question, why do cats like chlorine? The generally agreed upon answer is that it is because cats have a very highly developed sense of smell – much more complex than humans’ – and something like bleach might be connected to their pheromones, triggering a biological, hormonal reaction to the scent.

Common reactions include rubbing, purring and drooling – very similar to the effect that catnip has on kitties. So while cat experts haven’t really reached a detailed conclusion about why cats are into bleach, a simple way of thinking of it is that it has the same effect as catnip does on a kitty.

Cats and Bleach Poisoning

Many pet owners see this reaction as a reason to worry about the health and safety of their cat, but the faint smell of bleach and a cat’s reaction to it is harmless. However, licking or ingesting a lot of bleach can cause some serious cat health issues that would require immediate veterinary attention.

Some symptoms to be on the lookout for if you think your cat has swallowed bleach include vomiting, sore throat, stomach pain, excessive drooling, and a bleached appearance of the hair around the paws or mouth, possibly along with the smell of bleach or chlorine. If your cat is showing these symptoms, give them milk or water and get them to the vet ASAP – do not try to induce vomiting. The vet will continue to treat the cat by giving them large amounts of milk or water, and the prognoses is generally good if you act quickly and effectively.

So if your cat goes into a state of ecstasy over your bleach-scented hands every time you clean the bathroom, you do not have to worry that they are crazy. Their love of the scent is a common cat quirk, but it does mean that you have to be extra careful to keep any chemicals containing bleach safely away from your kitty.

What other explanations have you heard about why do cats love bleach? What other chemicals or scents does your kitty seem to love?

Comments (13)

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  1. No reaction to bleach at all, but the smell of her favourite veggies drive Diva nuts: Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnip, Lima beans, …

    She loves her veggies and if she doesn’t get them, she has the runs.

  2. Oh wow. I often wonder if this could have led to the early death of my beloved boy, Gus? I had no idea some cats were attracted to bleach until reading this blog. Last fall, I had cleaned my bathroom and there was a strip of mold that would not go away no matter how much I scrubbed. So I poured some bleach on it, blocked it off and left it for a bit. About 20 minutes later I picked up Gus and noticed his paws smelled of bleach. I smelled his mouth and noticed a faint odor. I panicked because I wasn’t sure what to do but I washed him thoroughly, gave him water and watched him for the rest of the night. He never exhibited any signs or symptoms that he ingested it and I was relatively certain he did not. Now, though, I wonder? The incident was in the fall of 2015 and he died in February 2016. The doctors were not able to determine what the illness was. Either IBD or Lymphoma (both present with similar symptoms). I never associated it with the bleach incident until after he died but now I will always wonder if it’s because I didn’t take him to the vet right away. I miss my guy very much. Thank you Jenny for posting about this. I never, never knew cats were attracted to bleach.

  3. Wow! Fascinating info, Jenny! Thanks! I have never noticed this with any of the kittehs that have been in my life. Perhaps I wasn’t paying close enough attention since I was always working all the time before we got Miss Pink Sugarbelle. Don’t clean much with bleach anymore as I try to keep our exposure to toxic chemicals limited nowadays. I mostly clean with baking soda, vinegar and citrus peelings. 🙂

    Big hugs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 😉 <3

  4. That’s really strange..I’ve never seen any of my kitties liking the bleach smell. However, they do try to smell my hands if I have anything new on them no matter if it is a trace of food, bleach, lotion, etc.♥♥♥

  5. Oh Jenny, I thought it was just me. Or, I should say, Toby, my Himalayan who passed last Christmas. He would go C R A Z Y over the stuff, just as you described. He never reacted to catnip, none of my cats ever have, including Loki (although he might still be a bit young), but as soon as I’d open a bottle of the stuff Toby would appear out of nowhere. Even after thoroughly washing my hands he could still smell it and would lick them, head-butt them, bite them, purring all the time. I’d sometimes thoroughly rinse out a cloth that had some bleach on it and throw it on the floor and he’d roll around on it.

    I thought it was one his “little quirks” but now I know it’s quite common. The explanation you cited makes perfect sense: a pheromone-related thing triggering some hormonal response.

    Just tried it again on Loki, put a little bleach on my hands then thoroughly washed them just leaving that bleachy smell behind. Let him smell my hand… no real reaction! Toby would have tried to lick and bite my hand off!

    Thanks for posting this, I’ve always wondered.

    1. Mine will just be VERY interested in smelling me when I use bleach – and I don’t ever really use pure bleach, but rather products with bleach in them – and never do they have contact with it directly. Loki might change as he ages.

      Loved your description of Toby with bleach.

  6. I’ve had a number of cats over the years and their reaction to bleach has varied from “Meh” to “Yowser!” My current fur herd is in the “Yowser!” column and have such a strong attraction that I have to take care. Most of the time it’s easy, clothes and litter box cleansing is done in the basement where they’re not allowed, but if I want to sterilize my dishpan (it’s amazing how scuzzy it can get) I have to lock the boys out of the kitchen! And if I get any on me I have to put lotion on my hands to disguise the scent otherwise they attack tooth and claw!

  7. wow. i had heard that cats like bleach but i didn’t believe it. i do occasionally clean with beach and i do love the smell of it myself but i use it very infrequently because i know it’s not good for you to breathe . i used to use it all the time when i didn’t have cats around. i’m sure i’ve done some damage. i never noticed that my cats were particularly attracted to it though. i’ll have to pay attention next time i use it and they are around.

    1. my cats always want to lick any product i use with bleach in it (but also use it on a rare occasion – like once every 2 months to clean my kitchen sink). the first time they showed interest in licking it was the last time i realized i couldn’t clean the sink and let it sit for a bit before i washed it off…or had to stay on guard duty.

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