Here’s how cats use their strong sense of smell to survive


A cat uses scent to sniff out food, mate and enemies and identify territories that have been marked by other cats

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Cats have a very strong sense of smell, 14 times stronger than that of human beings. This is because the total capacity of a cat’s nasal organ is comparatively larger than that of a human.

A cat’s nose is its most important sensory organ. Its sense of taste is weak. For context, humans have 9,000 taste buds whereas cats have 473. They make up this deficiency with their superior sense of smell and that is what they use to survive.

A cat uses scent to sniff out food, mate and enemies and identify territories that have been marked by other cats. The world of cats is comprised of scents and odours.

Cats start smelling things immediately after birth. Kittens when born are usually blind and use their sense of smell to locate their mother and to latch on a teat to feed. From then on, a cat’s sense of smell will lead it to food, in fact, they will go to the most unlikely places to look for food, high and low, from the tree tops to the drawers in your kitchen cabinets.

Locating a mate

According to feline experts, female cats that are ready to mate exude a strong pheromone that can be sniffed by a male cat from miles away. That is why there are times you will hear lusting tomcats making noise outside your house as your unspayed female cat tries to go to them. As for female cats, they can also scent out a preferred mate by sniffing a male’s territorial markings.

Male cats mark their territory with urine and will often travel along the boundaries, sniffing and reapplying when the smell reduces. Other cats coming to the area will also sniff the marking and either keep off, respect the territory or try to take over by introducing their own scent marking on top of the original.

Sniffing out enemies

Cats sniff out potential harm by holding their head alert, whiskers twitching and nostrils wide open. They can also smell anything that passed by, such as another cat that has walked into its territory. There are also times when you will see a cat’s mouth slightly open, looking as if it is smiling. This appearance is usually the cat breathing air into an organ called Jacobson’s organ. This organ, which is also found in snakes, plays a big role in the sense of smell in all cats, wild and domestic.

Maryanne is a pet owner. [email protected]