Why Do Cats Like Smelly Stuff?


You may have seen your cat sleeping on your shoes or rolling over your smelly athletic clothes. Maybe you were disgusted, laughed out loud, or both. What’s with cats and smelly things?

Cats aren’t the only animals attracted to smelly things. For animals, smell is extremely important because they use it to communicate with other animals and learn more about their surroundings. Animals rely on their sense of smell the same way we rely on our sight. The visual cortex of a human is the dominant part of the brain, while animals with a strong sense of smell have a dominant olfactory cortex.

The smell of a cat
The number of scent receptors in the nasal passages indicates the strength of an individual’s smell, according to a study published in the Indian Journal of Veterinary Science. With around 100 million scent receptors in the nasal cavity, a cat’s smell is about 20 times stronger than that of a human with just 5 million.

As if that weren’t enough, cats have scent glands on their cheeks, around their mouths, under the chin, and on the forehead just below their ears. What humans lack in their sense of smell, they make up for in sight, because a human is about 10 times better than a cat, although cats can see better in lower light

The vomeronasal organ

Cats and other animals have an additional olfactory organ in the roof of their mouth called the vomeronasal (or Jacobson’s) organ. When a cat engages in this organ, it can stick its tongue out, open its mouth wide and squint its muzzle. This is also called a yawning, sneer, snake mouth, or Flehmen response. Felines, dogs and horses do it too.

The vomeronasal organ is an extra-sensory olfactory organ that allows cats to smell something better. You might think it’s a magnifying glass for our sight, the vomeronasal organ is for a cat’s smell. Cats will use it if they smell something they’ve never smelled before and want to identify it more precisely.

A form of identification
Cats identify things by their sense of smell. Cats recognize people by their scent and voice, according to a study published in the journal Animal Cognition. Cats greet each other by touching their noses. They also greet people by sniffing them and rubbing their scent on them to mark them as safe for future reference.

You may have noticed that cats sometimes sniff another cat’s buttocks. They do this because the scent emitted by cats’ anal sacs is unique to each cat and is another form of establishing the other cat’s identity.

Comfort fragrances
Cats are comforted by the scent of their favorite people. In fact, if you’re anxious to take a vacation or even get to work for the day, leave your worn bathrobe on. You may find your cat sleeping on it when you get home, as a cat with separation anxiety may be comforted by your scent.

The inside of your shoes contains high concentrations of sweat and odor. Smelly shoes also contain bacteria that are attracted to the hot and humid environment. The bottom of your shoes tells their own story to a curious cat. Cats can pick up the smells of grass, dirt, parking lots, other floors you’ve walked on, and the smells of other humans and animals that were there before you. Sweaty sportswear also appeals to bacteria and curious cats. The apocrine sweat glands, located in the armpits and groin, produce particularly potent odors from fats and proteins that bacteria can easily break down. That and your scent in high concentrations may explain why cats are interested in your smelly sportswear.

Maybe our cats just want to be immersed in our scent. Take it as a huge compliment.

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