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Will the Smell of My Cat Keep Mice Away? The Surprising Answer


My childhood is filled with memories of watching poor Tom’s never-ending pursuit of clever Jerry and Speedy Gonzales outsmarting Sylvester’s every new hunting trick. These iconic cat-and-mouse duos have contributed to the enduring idea that cats will do anything to catch their precious prey. But as a fervent cat lover, I know that in real life, cats can be quite lazy and even indifferent to the presence of rodents.

But what about mice? Are they really resourceful, persistent creatures that can invade your home at will, or is the smell of cats enough to keep them at bay? Unfortunately, the mere scent of your cat may not be enough to deter mice from entering your home. Indeed, these tiny rodents can still infest your house even if they sense the presence of your feline companion.

Read on for an explanation of these animals’ intriguing behaviors.

How Can Mice Detect Your Cat’s Scent?

Mice, even those that have spent their entire life in a research lab, act fearfully when exposed to the smell of certain predators, such as cats (and rats, foxes, and weasels). These predators produce a chemical signal that generates a fear response in mice.

This fascinating behavior has been explained by scientists at Scripps Research and published in the prestigious journal Cell.1 Mice can detect a specific protein found in cat saliva, which acts on the neurons of a sensory organ located in their nasal cavity, the vomeronasal organ. These chemical signals caused the mice to show obvious signs of fear, such as freezing in place.

mouse coming out from its hiding place
Image Credit: Ralphs_Fotos, Pixabay

So, Is Your Cat’s Scent Enough to Keep Mice Away?

Despite the remarkable effect that the smell of cats has on mice, it’s unlikely to be enough to keep them all at bay. For one thing, mice have a huge advantage over cats: Their size enables them to fit into the tiniest of spaces. So, while they can smell your cat, it may not be enough to scare them away if they can find small holes to hide in and observe the danger from afar.

Mice are also terrific breeding machines: A female can have up to 15 litters a year, and the average litter size is 10 to 12 pups. This means one tiny mouse can produce up to 150 babies per year! That’s why you can’t expect your kitties to catch them all, even if they’re exceptionally skilled mouse hunters.

There’s also been a mind-boggling discovery about why mice can continue to infest homes despite the presence of multiple felines: Some rodents can permanently lose their innate fear of cats. This exceptional “ability” is due to a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that infects the brains of mice. Research teams believe that the infection causes permanent changes in the rodents’ brains so the smell of cat urine can no longer be detected. The parasite may also directly alter neurons involved in memory and learning, which would explain why the affected mice lose their fear of cats permanently.

How to Get Rid of Mice

As you can see, your cat can’t do the job on their own. So, here are a few tips to help drive mice out of your home and avoid infestation in the first place:

  • Keep your kitchen counters clean. Pick up crumbs and put food in airtight jars.
  • Close trash cans tightly. Strong food odors are real mouse magnets.
  • Seal cracks, pipes, and holes so rodents cannot sneak into your home. Use materials that mice cannot gnaw on (metal, cement, aluminum foil, steel wool, chicken wire, etc.). Also, check that they cannot fit under your doors.
  • If you suspect that there is a large infestation, your best option is to call an exterminator.
Image credit: SURKED, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

While the scent of your fiery feline may help to a certain extent, it’s not a foolproof method of keeping mice away. If you’re dealing with a mouse problem, you’ll need to take proactive steps to eliminate those that have already taken up residence and to prevent new ones from invading. This may include sealing entry points, storing food in airtight containers, and using traps or other rodent-control methods.

That said, you have nothing to lose by letting your cat do their part and chase away all the mice that have the misfortune of crossing their path!

Featured Image Credit: Eric Isselee, Shutterstock

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