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The Cat’s Sense of Smell

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Cat Smelling

Smell is an essential sense for a cat’s survival. Used on a daily basis, it is used to communicate and perceive the information surrounding it.

Inseparable from taste, this sense is particularly developed in felines, a little more than in dogs and up to 40 times more than in humans!

Find out everything you need to know about the cat’s sense of smell with our comprehensive guide.

The Cat’s Nose

If we speak of the nose for the man, we speak of the truffle for the cat, as for the dog.

Not only is our feline’s little nose adorable and gives us uncontrolled desire for kisses, but it is also and above all an essential and fabulous instrument.

The cat’s keen sense of smell is used to recognize (good food from bad) and to communicate (with other cats).

Indeed, a cat keeps his pretty meows mainly for us humans.

Apart from fights, periods of reproduction and “conversations” between mothers and kittens, the network most used to pass messages between cats, and to decipher them, is smell.

The cat's nose is very important to maintain the cat's sense of smell

The cat’s nose is very important to maintain the cat’s sense of smell – Source: wikimedia.orgCC BY-SA 3.0

The cat’s smell is related to the sense of taste. Indeed, the cat needs to smell the dishes and the objects around him to know if he can eat them or if they represent a danger.

It is thus a safety device which comforts the cat when the smell suits him. As a result, any odor he doesn’t like causes him to walk away.

The cat’s nose contains a multitude of Bowman’s glands. These produce secretions when needed, just like our sweat glands. The mucus produced moistens the cat’s nose and helps him better perceive the odors around him.

So, if your cat has a wet nose, this is in no way related to his state of health, contrary to what we tend to believe.

It is moist when he searches for food and is therefore on alert, when he is hungry or when he detects a pleasant smell in his surroundings.

Conversely, when his nose is dry, he is still in good health. It just means that he is sleeping, relaxing or digesting his meal; it is therefore not stimulated in an olfactory way.

The Importance of Smell in Cats

Smell is a very important sense for cats in their daily life.

Their nose is used to communicate, to indicate a preference, to delimit their territory and that of others, to detect danger, to identify an enemy or a prey, to find a female in heat, etc.

How Does the Cat Use his Sense of Smell?

Cats have a much better sense of smell than humans and dogs. They have nearly 200 million olfactory cells, compared to 150 million for dogs and only 5 million for humans.

Associated with Bowman’s glands, these scent cells allow cats to perceive scent stimuli that we are unable to sense.

Thanks to the mucus secreted from their nose, they can perceive the smells around them 50 to 100 times better than us!

Jacobson’s organ, or vomeronasal, located in the vault of the palate, in the nasopalatine canal of the cat, also participates in this outpouring of scents; it concentrates the odors in two small pockets located at the level of the cat’s nasal cavities in order to better analyze them.

It is why your cat can sometimes roll up his lips. This action allows him to direct the smells from his nose to his mouth to better interpret them.

What Is the Use of the Cat’s Sense of Smell?

If the sense of smell is so developed in cats, it is because it is a sense linked to their survival.

The main tool for communication and understanding the world around him, smell allows him to identify what he can eat.

As a result, a cat that loses his sense of smell, either totally or partially, risks becoming anorexic, because he will no longer be able to identify his food.

The smells have a special meaning for the cat. Thus, if certain scents tend to appease him or on the contrary to irritate him or push him to play, the animal is also able to detect atmospheric changes or the presence of a disease or a malaise in humans.

Cats with a flat muzzle are generally at a disadvantage when it comes to smell, and the smell is often much less developed. It can sometimes even be very attenuated.

However, these cats are still able to perceive olfactory stimuli and smells that are imperceptible to humans.

What Does Kitty Say when he Rubs Himself?

The “friendly” cats rub their heads and noses to greet each other or to strengthen their emotional ties, sometimes they even lick each other (like the mother cat and her cubs).

By extension, when Kitty rubs shoulders with us in this way, it is also to tell us his affection and his well-being by our side.

This is called allo-marking: Kitty deposits familiarization pheromones on us, on another small feline, a dog, which soothe him and establish an emotional bond between the congener or the human and him.

Rubbing on his passageways or objects also allows our little companion to mark out his living space, to inform others that he has passed by here and to recognize his home.

White Cat Scratching

A cat scratches in order to leave visual and olfactory marks – Photo by Daga_Roszkowska from Pixabay

What Does Kitty Say when He Scratches or Does a Little Wee on the Walls?

Urine, feces and scratches leave both visual and olfactory marks for other cats, they let them know who is the host. Kitty says “I’ve been there, it’s here at home”.

By clawing supports which are most often vertical, our feline does not only sharpen his charming claws, he also leaves pheromones secreted by the glands located between his pads.

The cat’s urine also contains information of a sexual nature which informs the status of the male and the female: the female says “I am in heat”, and the male answers “I am not neutered, I can make babies”.

It is more often the unsterilized males who carry out this type of marking when there are females in heat around.

By recognizing his world and his friends, the cat is at peace and can say to himself “I feel at home”.

Moreover, when he is stressed and he will need to find serenity, you will undoubtedly see these behaviors increase.

What Smells Do Cats Like?

Like humans, cats like some scents and dislike others. As we have discussed, odors influence the behavior of the cat, which can feel happy, calm, serene, excited, playful or irritated.

Smells Appreciated by Cats

  • The smells of good humor: cats particularly like the smell of catnip, which is more or less euphoric on their character. Some are particularly excited just by sniffing it for a few moments.
  • The smells of play and interaction: Cats generally appreciate mineral and vegetable smells. Scents like olive, mint or nutmeg tend to please them and encourage them to play.
  • The smells of serenity and tranquility: Lavender and vanilla are known to soothe the cat.
  • The smells of territory marking: certain essences such as thyme or rosemary encourage the cat to mark its territory by scratching the supports or by chewing on objects within reach.
  • The smells of good health: as in humans, eucalyptus is renowned for its refreshing virtues in cats. It helps them breathe better and resist cold snaps.

Smells that Cats Hate

  • The smells of aggression: cats do not like the strong smells of orange and citrus in general. These tend to irritate their sense of smell and make them aggressive.
    Avoid all citrus essential oils and lemon or orange scented cleaning products.
    However, lemon is very handy for preventing your cat from urinating where he shouldn’t and from going where it shouldn’t. A very practical natural repellent!
  • Bad mood odors: strong or tangy odors such as vinegar, onions or toothpaste are not very tolerable for your animal.
    Avoid contact with them, as you risk driving them away from you.

How to Take Care of my Cat’s Nose and Smell?

Smell is an essential sense for a cat’s survival, which is why it is important to take care of it, especially with age, as it tends to deteriorate.

If the cat does his daily grooming alone, he may need help cleaning his muzzle, which tends to clog easily.

The role of his nostrils is to filter the air he breathes and to retain dust and impurities present in the environment. Cleaning them regularly helps the cat to breathe properly and promotes good health.

Your cat’s nose should be gently cleaned using suitable products. A soft cotton and physiological serum are enough to remove the classic natural flows.

On the other hand, if you detect abnormal discharge or an obstruction of the nostrils, consult the veterinarian so that he prescribes you an appropriate treatment.

For classic cleansing, do not apply any product to your cat’s nose and do not stick any cotton swabs into it. Simply wipe off excess dirt in a gentle gesture.

Get him used to it from an early age, the procedure will be much easier.

The Cat’s Sense of Smell: The Conclusion

Hope this article on the cat’s sense of smell has been helpful to you.

Please feel free to let me know your opinion using the comments at the bottom of this page. They are made for that!

Cat Smelling Photo by vargazs from Pixabay

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