CatsLiving with Cats

why cats smell everything

A cat’s sense of smell determines a cat’s life. We used to think that dogs were more dependent on smell than cats, but current research shows that cats are very smell-conscious. Think of a cat’s individual scent as a cat’s name tag. For cats, scent determines sexual status and is used for communication, social interaction, and territorial identification.

To put this in perspective, the average person has between 50 and 20 million odor-analyzing cells on their nose. There are about 67 million cats. (The king of olfactory pets, the hunting dog, has 300 million.) While people don’t have the “device” to understand cat smells, we can learn to recognize and understand the behaviors that smell triggers.

cat smell and scratching

Cats’ footpads have scent glands between their toes. When they scratch objects, they leave not only visible marks, but also their personal scent. When cats want to signal ownership, they will deliberately scratch objects in front of another cat (or dog) they want to impress. Even declawed cats experience these movements. Primary paw odor targets include any real estate of high importance, such as near doorways, litter boxes, sleeping areas, etc.

Since the paw is a cat’s communication tool, there is no way to stop it. The best way to deal with paws is to provide paw training and give your new pet legal paw targets so he doesn’t leave your valuables behind.

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cat smell and bunting

The toes are the only place with scent glands. Cats have similar scent glands on the skin of the jaw, lips, cheeks, forehead and tail. The act of rubbing the head and body against people, other animals and objects is called bunting.

Bunting spreads your kitty’s signature scent on anything he rubs, this “scent sharing” identifies family members and safety items with familiar scents. Bunting is a huge compliment when Kitty head-butts you, or rubs your ankles and wraps her tail around your legs. He marks you as a part of his family, a favorite part of his territory or property.

Studies have shown that specific pheromones produced by the cheek glands have a calming effect on cats. They have been artificially reproduced in Feliway products and these pheromones identify territory as safe. Another pheromone component produced by the cheek glands identifies other cats as friends.

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Action can also communicate

Face rubbing is considered a subtle sign of submission, with a subordinate kitten approaching and bumping/rubbing against a more dominant pet or person. This also puts vulnerable eyes within reach of teeth and claws, so head bumps and cheek rubs against your face (or another cat’s) should be considered a sign of friendship and great trust.

Your kitten considers nose touch and hip tilt to be gestures of friendship. You may also notice Kitty wiping her cheeks as a greeting when you get home from get off work. Not only will he sniff your shoes or purse to “read” where you’ve been, but he’ll welcome you home with a bunt to freshen up the “home smell.”

Social grooming – where cats and kittens groom each other and even groom for you! — is also thought to be part of this mechanism for sharing familiar smells. When your kitten wants to clean you, you know that your kitty considers you, a dog, or another cat a true member of the family.

cat smell and urine spray

Urine contains more special chemicals (pheromones) that tell other cats about the sexual status of kittens who left their urine behind. Male and female cats squat on a flat surface to urinate and release urine – a litter box. When a cat wants to mark territory with urine, the posture is different. The squirter cat stands upright, with its back to the target, with its tail straight up, only the tip quivering a little, and then discharges its urine back onto vertical surfaces such as trees, stones, walls, or furniture.

The urine of an intact male cat has a particularly strong odor that is difficult to eliminate when used to mark territorial boundaries within your home. The pheromone in the urine announces to other cats that King Tom rules the area, and the spraying helps curb the sexual behavior of non-dominant cats who venture into the area. Intact females that spray water tend to do this to show how receptive they are to the area’s feline Romeo.

Sterilization greatly reduces the incidence of area spraying. However, cats of any gender after a change may resort to spraying when they feel unsafe and will hit or miss the litter box. Stress prompts Katie to spread his own familiar, comforting scents around the room. In these cases, spraying can be a stress-buster for a troubled cat.


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