Have you ever noticed that your cat seems very attracted to the smelliest things? Maybe your cat loves to rub their face in smelly shoes. Or maybe your feline is prone to snuggling on dirty, stinky laundry. The truth is, that attraction to smelly things isn't just random or weird cat behavior. Read on as we break down a few of the top reasons our cats like stinky things so much.
A cat's sense of smell tells them a lot about the world around them.
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Cats' strong senses make them incredibly perceptive about the world around them, and one of their most important senses is their sense of smell. It's not important just because their sense of smell is sixteen times as powerful as ours, but also because they have another smell-like sense in the roof of the mouth.
If you've ever noticed your cat make that goofy, vacant expression with their mouth half-open, then you've the flehmen response. This behavior is your cat using a special organ inside its mouth – the vomeronasal organ (also known as the Jacobson's Organ). This organ is somewhere between smell and taste, and it allows cats to even more deeply observe the smelly world around them. Your cat uses this organ's sensory abilities for things like mating, marking territory and communicating with other cats. And it also explains why smells play such an important role in our cats' behavior.
Cats identify other felines by smelling the smelliest part of each other: the butt.
Another reason that cats might be attracted to the smelliest things is that they're used to getting in close to smell gross things. You know what we're talking about—each others' butts. When they're meeting and first investigating each other, cats like to sniff each others' butts to get a whiff of the smell emitted by their anal glands.
These glands can give a kitty a lot of useful information, like establishing dominance, telling them if a fellow cat is ill or whether the strange cat is friendly. So since cats are used to using strong-smelling butts to give them information, they also look for important information in other smelly places.
Smelly things might smell strongly of someone they love.
One smelly spot that we so often find our cats loving is our soiled clothes. They might curl up in our dirty laundry basket or take a snooze on a sweaty workout shirt. And while we humans probably find that gross, our cats find it comforting, because they love our smell. Though cats use a lot more than just their sense of smell to recognize you, they do recognize their humans' scent and feel comforted by it. And when our clothes have been worn, they smell extra like us. So to our cats, that's just even more human scent to love.
What you think smells terrible, your cat might think smells great.
Our cats are very different creatures than we are, so sometimes they're attracted to smells that repulse us humans. Think of the smell of cat food. Most humans can agree we are turned off by the smell, but cats love it.
In a similar way, some kitties might like the smell of other things that humans find disgusting. For example, a lot of cat owners notice that their cats love stinky armpits. And while cats might be attracted to the strong human scent of someone they love as we discussed above, there may also be another reason. Sweaty armpits smell because of fats and proteins that we secrete. To us, the smell can only be described as icky. But to our cats, they smell tasty. Similar to cat food, armpits may have a delectable allure to our cats that we just can't quite stomach.
Smelly things tell our cat where we've been.
Things that smell bad to us may not just be pungent to our kitties—they might be full of important information. When we think of things that smell bad around our house, our minds immediately go to shoes. To us, shoes might just smell of our sweaty feet or the ground we've been walking through. But for our cat, those shoes might tell the story of our day. They might tell our kitties where we've been, or more importantly, what other animals we might've been near.
Our cats like to keep a close eye on us, and they use their powerful sense of smell to fill them in when we've been away. When you see your cat wandering over to your smelly shoes, you may also notice your cat rubbing itself on them. We as humans may see that behavior as an example of cats "loving" the smelly thing. But cats might actually be trying to overwrite some of the outside odors with their own, special scent.
Whether it's love, perception, seeking out information or just plain hunger, our cats love things that we find smelly. Their unique and powerful sense of smell, along with their flehmen response, lead them to investigate and sniff everything in their world—including things that smell. And while we will probably never want to join them in their pursuit of the ickiest smells, now, at least we understand more why our cats follow the stench.