The Scratching Post: The World Through Your Cat’s Nose

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Editor’s Note: The Scratching Post is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff at NOVA Cat Clinic.

Can you imagine walking into a house you’ve never been in and being able to smell how many people are in it? What about being able to smell fear or kindness?

Every day, cats take in this kind of information through their little pink or black noses. We have the ability to smell the roses, but Fluffy can smell what person or animal stopped by to give them a sniff. A cat’s sense of smell is about 14 times stronger than ours, so that’s how they get a lot of their information about the world around them.

Cats need to gather this information because in their world, information is left behind with scent and pheromones. Cats aren’t able to leave little notes saying things like “This couch is mine” or “I’m in the mood for love.”  They have to use pheromones which are in their saliva, urine, and feces, or the scent glands on their faces and near their paws.  Rubbing your pant leg or scratching the couch is the only way Fluffy can “leave a note” for any other potential cats that may come by.

Every day when I come home from work my cats love to smell me, my clothes, and my belongings. They are learning where I’ve been and gathering information about any cats that I may have touched. Sometimes if there’s a particularly interesting smell, they will sniff and sniff then open their mouths slightly and lift up their head for a few seconds.

I’ve always called this “stinky face,” but it has a technical term. It’s a Flehmen Response. This happens when cats inhale a scent over their vomeronasal (or Jacobson’s) organ. It is a scent organ located in the mouth behind the front teeth that links directly to the nasal cavity. Only a few mammals and snakes have this organ and it helps kitties gather a lot more information than a regular sniff. It’s akin to what we humans do when we are trying to discern the nuanced qualities of a fine wine, so even though it may look as though your cat is making a funny face it may be something they actually enjoy.

So they next time you see your kitty make “stinky face” or see them inexplicably sniffing a random spot on the floor, you’ll know that they’re just reading a “note” left behind from another cat (or maybe even themselves).

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of 

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