Even though your cat’s nose is tiny, are you aware that it has a highly developed and very keen sense of smell? This sense helps with feeding, social life, sexual behaviour and in the hunting of prey. The nose contains an olfactory mucous membrane and as your cat breathes in, the air passes through this membrane and the millions of cells send a response signal to the brain via the olfactory nerve.
Cats also have two ducts in the palette behind their upper incisors. When the tongue presses on these, the cat is able to gather information on the things around him in the atmosphere. It is sometimes possible to see the cat curl its lips and occasionally salivate, especially when sniffing the urine of another cat.
Newborn kittens use this sense to find the nipple for feeding, even though they are still blind and deaf.
Have you ever watched your cat at feeding time? It will always sniff its food before eating. Cats love the aroma of fresh fish and raw red meat. I’m sure most of you have had a cat meowing around your feet as you prepare dinner. A cat’s appetite can be stimulated by the scent of prey.
Aromas pays a huge role in the social life of cats. Cats, like dogs, will sniff each other under the tail and on other parts of the body when they meet. Cats will also leave drops of urine, faeces or secretions from other glands to let other cats know of its presence and territorial boundaries. When cats rub against each other, they are leaving some of the scent of the glands of their own body. This is how they get to know each other.
When your cat rubs its head against your hand, door frame or furniture, it is also marking its territory. If you’ve been shopping, your cat will want to sniff you and your bag, trying to find more about any new and different smells. I know if I have been swimming in a chlorinated pool, both my cats go crazy over my bathers. They sniff them, roll in them and almost try and wear them. I’m not sure what it is about the chlorine, as they don’t have this reaction if I have been swimming in the river or ocean.
During mating, smell is the most important of all the senses. It is possible for cats to recognise the identity and sexual readiness of mates by sniffing the urine and anal gland secretions. A male cat will spray his territory. This urine has a particularly unpleasant odor to humans. When a female cat is in heat, she also sends out a special scent which the male cats in the neighbourhood pick up on. Us humans are unable to pick up on a female cat’s scent when she is in heat.
Just like humans, cats have likes and dislikes to some smells or aromas. Most cats love catmint or catnip. They will sniff it, chew on it, and some will become excited and playful after eating it. Cats also seem to like the scent of Oleander, stocks, valerian, pinks and sorrell. Some herbs such as marjoram or oregano can make cats aggressive. Perfume, especially the synthetic ones, can make them dribble. Vinegar is a scent they dislike intensely. Sprinkling vinegar where a cat urinates inappropriately should stop them using that place.
Smelling things is your cat’s way of exploring its world. It is able to detect odours that we as humans can’t. Unfortunately, just as with some humans, your cat’s sense of smell deteriorates with age. Infection and injuries caused through fighting can also affect this very necessary sense. For a cat, this loss creates a huge handicap. It makes it very hard to catch prey, communicate with other cats, and can leave them open to being injured in a fight if they wander into the territory of another cat.