Why Do Cats Open Their Mouths When They Odor?

Why Do Cats Open Their Mouths When They Odor?

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When cats actually need to know what’s occurring round them, they use their highly effective sense of scent. And so 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 delicate “huffing” sound. You’ve in all probability puzzled, why do cats open their mouths once they scent? Ought to 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 boost their capability to scent. This unusual conduct, known as “the flehman response,” is seen in a variety of mammals. (However not in people.) All of those animals (except for horses) have particular scent receptors on the roofs of their mouths in addition to of their noses.


Within 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 situated. Ruysch even described the open-mouth respiration animals used to deliver scents to the receptors. However it wasn’t till the Nineteen Thirties that the director of a German zoo gave this open-mouthed smelling the title “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 known as “gaping,” “grimacing,” and “sneering.” Cats can look irritated and aggressive once they’re engaged on this kind of smelling—regardless that they’re in all probability simply preoccupied.

Begging cat portrait.

“Though the basic ‘stinkface’ seems a bit menacing, it’s not meant to be,” says Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, a veterinarian who sits on The Canine Individuals Panel at Rover. She’s Chief Veterinarian and apply proprietor on the award-winning Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital in Ontario, Canada.

So why do cats open their mouths once they scent? 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 viewpoint.

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

How Nicely Do Cats Odor?

nose and mouth of a white adult cat

Actually, rather well. In comparison with 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 School of Veterinary Drugs & Biomedical Sciences stories that cats may be better able to differentiate between completely 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 scent. 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 in all probability inform what sort of animal it was and if it’s a harmful predator, potential prey, a possible sexual partner or competitor—or the household Labradoodle.

In keeping with Catnip, the e-newsletter of the Cummings College of Veterinary Drugs at Tufts College, “Whereas folks can cease and scent the roses, cats can cease and scent the individuals who stopped to scent the roses—lengthy after the folks have walked away.”

If you wish to see a cat give the flehmen response, attempt bringing a male cat right into a room the place an odd male cat has been (or, higher but, the place an odd male cat has sprayed). In her e-book 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 area as if conducting a fancy evaluation.

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

What Do Cats Do When They Odor One thing Dangerous?

Whereas people would possibly 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 scent being nice or nasty. For a cat, what counts is how fascinating the scent is.

“When your cat makes that bizarre ‘sneer’ after sniffing one thing notably intriguing to them, they’re primarily intently analyzing a specific scent to glean as a lot olfactory information as potential,” Dr. Greenstein says.

In truth, 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. Remember that issues that scent completely terrible to people (cat pee! decaying fish! different cat’s hind ends!) could also be totally fascinating to your cat. And numerous smells that the majority people discover pleasant (equivalent to citrus, cinnamon, and ripe bananas) are an actual turn-off for kitties. (Tufts’ Catnip e-newsletter has a full list.)

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