December 4, 2022
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When cats actually need to know what’s happening round them, they use their highly effective sense of odor. And they do far more than simply casually sniffing at issues. You’ll see them draw again their lips, wrinkle their muzzles, open their mouths, and suck in air with a mushy “huffing” sound. You’ve most likely puzzled, why do cats open their mouths once they odor? Should I fear about my cat making these unusual faces?

The Flehmen Response

It seems our cats aren’t the one animals that open their mouths to reinforce their capability to odor. This unusual habits, referred to as “the flehman response,” is seen in a variety of mammals. (But not in people.) All of those animals (apart from horses) have particular scent receptors on the roofs of their mouths in addition to of their noses.

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In the 1600s, Dutch anatomist Frederick Ruysch did among the earliest analysis on the vomeronasal organ (it’s also referred to as a Jacobson’s organ) the place these scent receptors are positioned. Ruysch even described the open-mouth respiration animals used to convey scents to the receptors. But it wasn’t till the Nineteen Thirties that the director of a German zoo gave this open-mouthed smelling the identify “flehmen response.” This comes from the German phrase “flehmen,” when means “to reveal the higher enamel.”

There are a number of names for this exaggerated, open-mouthed sniffing. It’s additionally referred to as “gaping,” “grimacing,” and “sneering.” Cats can look aggravated and aggressive once they’re engaged on this type of smelling—despite the fact that they’re most likely simply preoccupied.

“Although the traditional ‘stinkface’ appears to be like a little bit menacing, it’s not meant to be,” says Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, a veterinarian who sits on The Dog People Panel at Rover. She’s Chief Veterinarian and observe proprietor on the award-winning Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital in Ontario, Canada.

So why do cats open their mouths once they odor? Dr. Greenstein says that quite a few animals together with cats, horses, elephants, and even pandas, will make this snarl-like gesture in response to sure scents that warrant extra-special consideration from a sniffing standpoint.

“The humorous look cat mother and father typically see is definitely fairly purposeful, and under no circumstances aggressive,” Dr. Greenstein says. “The lip curl permits the transmission of sure scent hormones referred to as pheromones into the mouth. It’s type of like smelling and tasting a scent concurrently.”

How Well Do Cats Smell?

nose and mouth of a white adult cat

Really, very well. Compared to the 5 million or so olfactory receptors in a human nostril, a cat has as many as 200 million olfactory receptors. And whereas cats have fewer sensors than canines, Dr. Carly Patterson at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences studies that cats could also be higher capable of differentiate between totally different smells.

In an interview with Slate, anthrozoologist John Bradshaw, writer of Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, describes cats as having a “excessive decision” sense of odor. So whereas the remainder of us are taking a look at a blurry image (“Hmmm, smells like an animal was in right here!”) your cat can most likely inform what sort of animal it was and if it’s a harmful predator, potential prey, a doable sexual associate or competitor—or the household Labradoodle.

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According to Catnip, the publication of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, “While individuals can cease and odor the roses, cats can cease and odor the individuals who stopped to odor the roses—lengthy after the individuals have walked away.”

If you need to see a cat give the flehmen response, strive bringing a male cat right into a room the place a wierd male cat has been (or, higher but, the place a wierd male cat has sprayed). In her ebook Why Do Cats Do That? Catherine Davidson describes the entire course of, explaining that flehmening can take fairly a little bit of time and should contain staring into house as if conducting a posh evaluation.

“Cat spray accommodates an excessive amount of data,” Davidson factors out.

What Do Cats Do When They Smell Something Bad?

While people may make a face that resembles the feline flehmen response once they get a whiff of one thing actually pungent, a cat’s flehmen response has nothing to do with a odor being nice or nasty. For a cat, what counts is how fascinating the odor is.

“When your cat makes that bizarre ‘sneer’ after sniffing one thing significantly intriguing to them, they’re primarily intently analyzing a selected odor to glean as a lot olfactory data as doable,” Dr. Greenstein says.

In reality, if one thing smells foul to a cat, they’ll simply depart rapidly. That’s the precept behind anti-scratch sprays and different feline repellents. Keep in thoughts that issues that odor completely terrible to people (cat pee! decaying fish! different cat’s hind ends!) could also be totally fascinating to your cat. And a variety of smells that almost all people discover pleasant (equivalent to citrus, cinnamon, and ripe bananas) are an actual turn-off for kitties. (Tufts’ Catnip publication has a full listing.)

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Further Reading

  • Save Your Furniture! Try One of These Anti-Scratch Sprays
  • Why Is My Cat Biting Me? And What to Do About It
  • Why Cats Are Better Than Dogs According to Science (And This Cat Mom)

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