Cat Sense Of Smell

Cat Sense Of Smell

Smell is one of the most important senses that cats possess. It is crucial in a kitten’s early encounters with its mother and with any strange new objects, which it will sniff cautiously from a distance before coming closer. Smell is central, too, in a cat’s social interactions with other cats, sniffing one another’s heads and beneath their tails, where they have odour-making glands. A cat also marks out its territory with its scent markers, in the form of urine or sweat.

Cat Sense Of Smell

The cat has a highly sensitive nose. From kittenhood, its sense of smell is important: when meeting other cats and people, when mating, when seeking food and, of course, when exploring the world.

The cat has a highly developed sense of smell, which plays an important part throughout its life, starting in early kittenhood.

In a cat’s nasal passages, there are millions of nerve endings – about four times as many as in the human nose – which receive molecules that are carried by the air and which are then triggered into sending signals along the nerve fibres to the olfactory centre in the brain. This part of the brain picks up scent sensations.


The cat will use this heightened sense of smell in many different ways during its life. First of all, it will recognise its mother, and then it will soon learn to detect other cats and the people that form a part of its life.

It has several ways of marking where it has been with its tell-tale scent. It has special scent glands located beneath its ears, on thepaw pads, and at the base of the tail, which it uses to mark things simply by rubbing against them.

In addition, of course, it also sprays urine in order to mark things with its scent, so it is hardly surprising that a cat’s presence can be readily detected by another cat.

  • A cat’s sense of smell is more highly developed and more important than that of humans.
  • A cat has about 19 million nerve endings in its nose, compared with us humans who get by with only five million.

A layer of tissue containing olfactory cells covers the back of the nasal cavities. Cats have about 67 million olfactory cells. Dogs have between 100 million and 300 million of these cells, which is why they are the champion trackers of the animal world. Humans have between 5 million and 20 million of them, which explains why our sense of smell is so poor.

The cat’s nose is especially sensitive to those unpleasant smells that contain nitrogen and that indicate that a food is past its best or going ‘off’. Cats obviously can’t read ‘best by’ dates so this is a particularly useful thing for a cat to spot. It may even be a life saver.

When a cat rubs its head and body against you, it is marking you with its scent. This gesture is saying ‘You’re mine’ .

What has research revealed about the cat’s sense of smell? It has shown that the proportion of the brain that is concerned with olfaction, or smell, is considerably greater than in humans – hence the cat’s heightened sense of smell.

Q. Is a kitten able to smell as soon as it is born?

Yes, that is one sense that is well developed in the newborn kitten. And because a cat is born blind, its sense of smell is particularly important in its early kittenhood.

Q. Is the cat’s sense of smell associated with its sense of taste?

Yes, these two senses are closely connected. The cat’s nasal passage opens into the mouth, and both scent and taste sensations are sent to the olfactory centre in the brain.