A cat’s sense of smell is far superior to that of humans. A feline nose possesses 45 to 80 million olfactory receptors, whereas a human nose only contains about 5 million receptors. Therefore, cats are known to gather more information through sniffing things than from their eyesight.
A cat will smell everything to examine its environment, discover food sources, and locate scent messages from other cats. Cat-to-cat scent messages are left by rubbing, scratching, urinating, and defecating. At home, your cat creates a mixed family scent by rubbing itself against objects and humans, which enables it to feel more secure.
Your cat will sniff everything from human armpits to different scents in the air. A feline that shows interest and curiosity in its environment by sniffing things is considered to be healthy. If your cat shows a lack of interest in different scents, it’s far more likely to be a cause for concern.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Why Do Cats Sniff So Much?
- 1.1 Cats are Farsighted
- 1.2 Smell Stimulates a Cat’s Appetite
- 1.3 Cats Know Their Owners by their Scent
- 1.4 Cats Communicate with Smell
- 1.5 Cats Greet by Sniffing Each Other’s Butts
- 1.6 Scent Maps
Why Do Cats Sniff So Much?
According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, cats have scent receptor proteins that help them identify different scents. Cats have thirty of these receptor proteins, dogs have nine and humans have two.
Cats use smell in their social interactions, to create and identify chemical cues and to locate food, enemies, and friends.
Cats are Farsighted
Cats have a hard time seeing objects near them. Instead of using their sight, they rely on their sense of smell and touch to identify what’s up close. You may have noticed this when your cat approaches a new object with caution.
A new object, person, or cat doesn’t only appear large and blurry to a cat when it’s nearby, its scent is also unfamiliar. Therefore, it will either flee the scene or sniff until it determines the unfamiliar object or being is safe.
Smell Stimulates a Cat’s Appetite
Cats have fewer taste receptors and more olfactory receptors than humans. Therefore, it’s a given that a cat will use its sense of smell to gather information about the taste, flavor, and safety of its food.
Your cat’s favorite meal, such as a bowl of its favorite wet food, will stimulate its hunger because of its unique smell.
The downside for this is that cats with nasal blockages or respiratory infections are likely to stop eating. If a cat cannot sniff its food, it won’t have an appetite to eat. This causes anorexia in cats, which can lead to further complications if not managed promptly.
Cats Know Their Owners by their Scent
For a cat, how you look is of negligible importance. Your cat identifies you through your scent, and sometimes your voice.
This is why cats may react differently or negatively towards their owners when they smell like something they aren’t familiar with. If you’re wearing a new scent containing notes of citrus or spice, the chances are that your cat will stay away.
Your cat may also keep a safe distance from you if it identifies a different animal’s scent on you. This can be after visiting a veterinary clinic, a pound, a farm, or after petting your friend’s dog or cat. This behavior is temporary.
Cats Communicate with Smell
Cat’s don’t verbalize their feelings, hug or shake hands, but they do evaluate each other. When cats meet, they often sniff each other’s head first. Some may exchange a subtle head bump. When a cat rubs its head against another cat, it’s releasing pheromones from the glands in its face.
The pheromones released during this exchange will tell a lot about both cats. So, instead of using their voice, cats use smell as a tool for communication.
The primary compounds used to carry out this chemical communication between cats are called amines and acids. Amines and acids produce aromas that only cats can smell. These smells can tell a cat about the other cat’s mood, and even what it likes to eat.
A cat can tell whether another cat is calm or aggressive, male or female, healthy or unfit, weak or strong. A quick sniff on the head gives the cat some information about a friend or foe. However, detailed information requires more potent odors, hence why they sniff each other’s butts.
Cats Greet by Sniffing Each Other’s Butts
Sniffing butts is a socially acceptable and healthy form of communication between cats. It also keeps introductions brief because the smell of a feline’s butt can give out a great deal of information.
The cat’s rectum contains anal glands. These are two small sacs that release an unpleasant smelling substance into the rectum via two openings. Your cat’s anal glands are emptied every time its rectal sphincter contracts during defecation.
However, it can be difficult for owners to identify the smell of the anal glands as this scent is overpowered by the scent of your cat’s feces. Cats have a sharper sense of smell and can hence, tell the two apart.
Why Do Cats Sniff Butts?
Although strange, butt greeting rituals have a purpose among felines. A cat obtains enough information from another cat’s butt odor to tell whether it’s a friend or foe, or whether it is going to be a good companion or a nuisance. Is the new cat young and a threat to the other cat’s territory?
Each cat has its own unique butt odor. This smell serves as a cat’s identification. Butt sniffing helps cats determine if they’ve met before.
It aids in establishing dominance between two cats. The cat that commences the butt-sniffing is often the dominant feline. The submissive cat will wait for its turn and end the butt smelling by leaving the cat’s turf. A dominant cat will stop smelling and show aggression by hissing to finish the intro.
Keep in mind that not all cats greet the same way. Some cats are shy and will restrict the amount of information they give out. They’ll, therefore, sit down, cover their rectums with their tails and limit the odor they release.
Whether it’s a person, a cat bed or cardboard box, if a cat rubs on it, it’s claiming ownership. Cats leave behind their scent by rubbing on objects. This is why cats smell everything. If a cat smells another cat on an object, it will know it’s on another cat’s territory.
Scent mapping also helps cats navigate. Rubbing their scent on objects around the house helps cats understand where they are and how they can get around. If you have an outdoor-access cat, it will use its scent map to find its way back home.
Why do Cats Smell with their Mouths Open?
Cats have two noses. The nose that’s visible to you has 20-square centimeters of respiratory epithelium (scent surface). Cats receive scent information and send messages to the olfactory bulb in the brain that’s responsible for the smell.
Cats identify scents by breathing in and consciously sniffing the air. This type of sniffing is superior in cats, but it’s anatomically similar to humans.
Cats have a second scent organ called the vomeronasal organ ( Jacobson’s organ.) The Jacobson’s organ in cats analyzes scents and sends messages to the amygdala. The amygdala is a part of the brain that’s involved in social behavior, sex, and food.
You know a cat is using its Jacobson’s organ when it wrinkles its nose, sniffs an object and opens its mouth, showing its upper teeth. Opening the mouth, helps your cat draw air and hence, scent, into the two small ducts behind the upper front teeth. Also known as Flehmen behavior, cats use their vomeronasal organ when smelling pheromones.
According to Veterinary Science Communications, pheromones also play an important role in feline reproduction.
Cats have glands that secrete pheromones on the face (under the chin, on the cheeks, on the forehead, and around the mouth), on the rear end where the tail forms, on the central pads of the feet, the urogenital region, the nipple area and around the anus.
Why Does My Cat Smell My Mouth?
Cats identify their owners by their unique scent, which can be released by the mouth as well. If your cat sniffs your mouth, it’s doing so to comfort itself with the unique smell of your breath.
Cats are also drawn to warmth and moisture. The saliva in your breath can be comforting and pleasant for your cat as well.
Another reason your cat smells your breath may be to determine what you have eaten within the last few hours. Cats are more likely to do this if they’re hungry. Your cat may notice that you’ve eaten something recently and cozy up to you hoping to have a meal of its own.
Cats may also sniff their owners’ mouths to get a sense of their general health. Your breath smells different when you’re suffering from a cold, for example.
Some experts believe that a cat may smell its owner’s mouth to tell if they’re feeling sick or healthy. If it’s the former, it may bring you a small gift to help you feel strong again, such as a dead (or half-dead) mouse or a bird.