A cat’s sense of smell is simply amazing. It is far superior to humans. In fact, cats have about 200 million odor receptors in their nasal cavities, while humans have only 6 million.
Cats rely on smell more than any other sense.
Cats use scent in nearly everything they do, from communicating to hunting to exploring.
By sniffing things in their environment, cats can glean important information such as who has been there, what the object is, whether food is safe to eat, or where the object is.
This means a cat’s nose is nearly 40 times more sensitive than ours. No wonder cats rely heavily on their sense of smell for nearly all aspects of their existence, including communication, hunting, and finding a mate. It’s normal for cats to sniff a lot, but what does it mean if your cat is sniffing more than usual? Let’s find out.
A little bit about cat noses
This cute little button nose means a lot more than you might think. We’ve learned that cats have far more odor receptors in their noses than we do, so cats have a much larger nasal surface area than ours, despite their much smaller noses.
The lining of a cat’s nose, called the olfactory epithelium, is an estimated 20 square centimeters. In comparison, the human olfactory epithelium is only 4 square centimeters.
When a cat detects an odor, odor receptors in the nasal cavity send a message through the olfactory bulb in the nose. This then sends signals to a part of the brain called the amygdala, which handles the ability to consciously detect and recognize odors.
Not only are cats’ noses extremely sensitive to smell, but their ability to distinguish between different smells is much higher than that of dogs or humans. The receptors in the nose that distinguish odors are called V1R receptors.
Cats have 30 V1R receptors, while dogs have 9 and humans have only 2. This enables cats to recognize and differentiate a wider variety of scents. Cats can even smell pheromones, while humans cannot.
Also read: Do cats have a good sense of smell?
Cats have a cool dual scent mechanism where they can detect scents not only with their noses but also with their mouths. Cats have a small organ on the roof of their mouth, just behind the front teeth, called the vomeronasal organ (sometimes called Jacobson’s organ). This amazing organ allows cats to detect pheromones (chemical messages) from other cats as well as other animals, including you.
This is why you may sometimes observe your cat’s mouth open slightly and stop. Cats do this when they use their vomeronasal apparatus to detect pheromones in the air. Cats also sometimes curl their upper lip in an attempt to transfer as many odor particles as possible to the vomeronasal organ. This curling of the lips is known as the Fleiman reaction.
Also read: Heavy Breathing Cats – 3 Types of Heavy Breathing and What They Mean
What does it mean if my cat smells everything?
Cats rely on smell more than any other sense. Everything they smell provides them with all kinds of important information about their environment and the other animals and people in it.
A cat placed in a completely new environment, such as a new home, veterinarian, or cattery, may take a good sniff of everything in it to get as much information as possible. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons cats sniff things.
1. Explore their environment
Cats primarily use their noses to navigate the world. By sniffing out things in their environment, they can glean important information such as who has been there (such as other cats, people, or other animals), what the object is, whether food is safe to eat, or where the object has been.
You’ll often notice that your cat immediately sniffs out anything new in the environment, be it new toys, new furniture, or even house guests.
Also read: Learn about a cat’s five senses
This incredible sense of smell comes in handy when cats are hunting prey. Their nimble noses take just a quick sniff to pick up the scent of small mammals or other prey and help them find their target.
Also read: How do cats hunt?
3. Find a partner
Cats are able to detect the pheromones of potential mates, and male cats can smell a female cat in heat from two miles away! If there are potential mates in the area, your cat may be sniffing everything to try and gather more information about the cat, such as its location, sex, whether it wants to mate, and whether it is healthy. A lot of information can be obtained with just a few environment sniffs.
Also read: Do Cats Know When You’re Sick?
4. Check the territory
Cats typically mark their territory with scent. This signals to other cats in the area and provides information such as whose territory it is, how many cats have been there, and whether it is a territory your cat wants to try and claim. Your cat sniffs everything in its environment to decide where to mark its territory and whether it’s safe to do so.
If your cat already has an established territory but suddenly starts sniffing everything in it, it could mean that there is a new cat nearby and your cat is sniffing to detect if they are a potential threat.
How Do Cats Smell Marks?
Cats have scent glands (also called sebaceous glands) all over their bodies, including:
- on their cheeks
- under their chins
- by their side
- in oki
- along the tail
We’ve all had cats bang us on the forehead (sometimes called head banging or head banging), wrap their bodies around our ankles, or rub their cheeks against the edge of furniture. Well, every time a cat does this, they are scent marks.
Your cat is smearing pheromones all over you and their territory, which is not only a sign of possessiveness, but a sign that they feel safe in their environment and around you. Pheromones are chemical messengers that can convey different messages depending on the situation and the emotional state of the cat.
Also read: What does it mean when a cat rubs against you?
Cats can use pheromones for scent marking to reassure themselves, remind other cats that they are ready to mate, bond with other animals in the home, or mark their territory and warn other cats. Cats also have scent glands in their paws and sometimes scratch vertical or horizontal surfaces to mark their territory.
Cats may also spray urine around their territory if they feel particularly threatened. If your cat sprays urine around your home, this is often a sign of stress, so contact your veterinarian for further advice. They can refer you to a cat behaviorist if necessary.
Also read: Do cats have scent glands in their paws?
You can buy an artificial feline pheromone called Feliway at home, in the form of a plug-in diffuser or spray. While these are odorless to us humans, your cat can smell them and they can help reassure your cat and relax them so they feel safe in their environment. Pheromones can be used to help in a variety of situations, including:
Pheromones can also be used to help relieve stress in cats who are particularly anxious or exhibit problem behaviors such as excessive scratching, excessive grooming, or urine spraying.
Cats have a very sensitive sense of smell, the most important of all five senses. Cats use scent in nearly everything they do, from communicating to hunting to exploring. The information they gather with their small, peculiar noses helps them make decisions about everyday life and allows them to survive.
If your cat suddenly smells everything, they are trying to get as much information as possible about their environment and are smelling things that you don’t have a chance to smell.
Also read: How Smart Are Cats?science has the answer
frequently asked questions
Why do cats smell the air?
Odors and pheromones can be detected in the air, sometimes even from miles away if the wind is blowing in the right direction. Cats have a second odor organ at the top of their mouths called the vomeronasal organ, so if your cat opens its mouth to sniff the air, they’ll detect subtle pheromones that the nose can’t.
Why is my cat sniffing me?
Your cats recognize your scent, so they might just be confirming it’s you! Cats also mark their scents by rubbing their faces and bodies against their owners so that they will sniff you to check for possible lingering scents.
Why does my cat like to sniff me more than usual?
Cats get a lot of information by sniffing, so if your cat is sniffing you more often than usual, it could be that you went somewhere that smells funny, you have the scent of another animal on you, or you just spilled some good Eat you down!
Why is my cat sniffing loudly all the time?
Cats sometimes express their frustration by sniffing loudly. This is called panting. Cats may also sniff loudly when they use the vomeronasal apparatus to detect interesting odors. If your cat keeps sniffing loudly, they may have a virus, so take them to the vet if you’re concerned they may be unwell.
Why is my cat randomly sniffing the carpet?
While a rug may look boring to you and me, it can provide a lot of information for your cat! It could be that your cat is sniffing and trying to figure out where you were before you walked on the carpet, or they are smelling another animal that has been there before. Cats have very sensitive noses, and they might even smell some food that was spilled and cleaned up long ago.
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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