Cats have glands under their skin. These glands are organs in the body that produce an oily substance. The glands are at certain places in the body of the cat. The picture shows you where they are.
The substance that cat glands produce smells. The smell is a “scent”. It is almost impossible for us to smell this scent. Although, some people can detect it. All other cats smell it very clearly. The smell tells them information about the cat that put it there (“deposited it”) such as when he was there. Sometimes cats that smell another cat’s scent put their own scent over it. You can see this happen in gardens where more than one cat lives and which go outside.
The scent that is produced is deposited onto objects when the cat rubs parts of himself against these objects. For example, you will see a cat rub the side of his mouth against a door in a home or against a person’s leg or hand. You may see your cat rub the side of his body against furniture. You may also see him scratch a scratching post. When he does all these things he is leaving his smell on these objects because a bit of the substance that is made in the glands is left on the things he rubs against or scratches.
This is a list of where the main skin glands are:
- On the paws. The glands in the paws are called “interdigital glands“. This means glands between the toes.
- At the corners of the mouth. These are called perioral glands. The word “perioral” means the skin around the mouth.
- A each side of the the forehead. These are called the temporal glands.
- At the side of the face. These are cheek glands.
- Beneath the chin. These are called “submandibular glands“. The word “submandibular” means under the jaw.
- Along the tail. These are called caudal glands.
- At the base (start) of the tail. This is called the “supra-caudal gland“. The word “supra” means above. Sometimes, this gland can produce too much oil. This can cause a condition called “stud tail”.
- The outside of the ears, the part of the ear that you see and which are called ear flaps of pinnae, also produce a waxy secretion.
- Not in the skin but on either side of the anus. The anal sacs (glands) produce a smelly substance that is added to feces to make it smell in a certain way.
We can add to the glands mentioned above, the following bits of anatomy (“structures”) inside the cat’s body which produce smelly substances which are also used to leave a message:
- Rectum. A cat’s feces smell. This smell is used to leave a calling card (message) to other cats.
- Bladder. A cat’s urine smells strongly. This is also used to tell other cats about what a cat is doing.
We are not sure at the moment if each gland produces a different smelling substance but because a cat uses the most convenient gland it is probable that the same smell is in the substance from each gland. We know that the substances secreted (flowing from) the glands in the face contain what are called “pheromones” (see a page on the chemicals). There are five different types. “Pheromones” are substances that affect the behaviour of other cats.
When a cat rubs parts of his head against objects it is called “bunting”. When cats push their head onto you it is called “head butting”.
The cat will used the gland that is most suitable depending on the height of the object to be rubbed. For example, if the object to be rubbed is high up, a cat will use his head and ears. A cat will rub the side of his face against objects at head height. Lower objects are rubbed with the underside of the chin and the throat.
Male cats that have not been neutered rub-mark – mark objects with their smell by rubbing against the object – the most. They do it more than female cats that are not sexually active (not in heat) and more than young male cats.
Cats often rub against each other cats leaving their scent on each other. They do it to us too. This is sometimes called “scent exchange”. People think this is a way of being friendly to each other as their smells become one.