What Do Cats Smell Like?

The smell of a cat

The smell of a cat

What do cats smell like? Nice! This is, actually, a reasonable question. From the cat’s perspective how we smell is important. We know that our cat may sniff us from time to time and I allow my cat to sniff my face and lick it. When I encounter a new cat the first thing that I do is to let her sniff the back of my hand because I believe that is what she would like to do. For a cat it is a way of identifying someone and I wonder if a cat can detect whether a person is friendly or hostile by the scent that they have.

There is precious little on the Internet about the scent of a healthy cat. Clearly people do not consider it important. However, one may be able to detect an illness from the smell of a cat. Although, I know little on that particular topic except for the smell of cat breath, for example, which can indicate whether a cat has some gum disease or not.

The scent of a cat would appear to vary over the body of the cat. This probably is because there are glands at various points which give off scent and perhaps in those areas she will smell differently.

One thing is for sure. All cats smell nice. I don’t think anybody can deny that. The general body odour of the cat is pleasant. I have found that for Charlie, my cat, his scent is less strong on the top of his head that over the sides of his body.

It is hard to describe the smell but it is quite faint and neutral and very much in line with the scent of a human being in terms of strength. I would expect the smell to be similar in many ways to ours because we are, after all, animals, mammals, with very similar anatomies at a fundamental level.

Apparently, the fragrance (I’m dictating this and the word “fragrance” is understood far more easily than the word “scent”) that we give off is in chemicals in the skin, saliva, sweat and urine. The chemical that I am referring to is a pheromone. We know how important these are in respect of liking a person and indeed being turned-on, sexually, by a person.

I will have to presume that the smell given off by a cat is from chemicals in the saliva of the cat, scent glands in her body at various points, and pheromones given off by the cat. Pheromones help the cat find a mate and are excreted by cats as they rub the sides of their face against objects. Pheromones are very important with respect to cat behaviour.

So when we smell our cat (perhaps we are simply kissing her or giving her a cuddle) we are probably smelling the pheromones given off by her. Perhaps this is the common denominator between people and cats: their pheromones. I do not know exactly what pheromones smell like but apparently one of the constituent smells is the smell of musk. The smell of musk is sometimes created artificially and put into perfumes. Perhaps, when we smell our cat, we are picking up a very faint smell of musk amongst the other scents emitted by our cat’s body.

As mentioned, the sort of smell that we should not detect are the smell of bad breath. I can add the smell of the presence of ear mites, which apparently is a nasty odour, and another medical condition that causes a bad odour is stud tale which is caused by an over secretion of the sebaceous glands. You may see an accumulation of waxy brown material at the base of the tail and the hair becomes matted and greasy. There is a rancid odour.

I’m sure that there are other medical conditions that produce an odour that is not as fresh as the natural odour of a cat and therefore when we smell a cat it may give us some clues as to whether our cat is healthy. We should enjoy the smell of our cat: it is pleasant and I believe that it is an indicator of health.

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What Do Cats Smell Like? — 17 Comments

  1. Michael,

    A GREAT article- and you have inspired me to write about “sniffing” cats. Yes, I am a cat sniffer- obviously outing myself by creating my name “Troublesniffer”.

    Many people “sniff” ther cats – may feel silly so don’t admit it.. But cats have a really lovely aroma about them- of course when they are healthy!

    • Thank you, Jo. I wasn’t sure how this article would be received partly because it had to come out of my head, more or less. This is because there is almost nothing on the Internet or in books about it but the smell of the cat is important I feel. It is a sweet smell. Healthy cats smell beautiful and it encourages us to bury our faces in that soft, luxurious fur and give him or her a big kiss. I am very fond of giving my cat a kiss. I find it easier to give my cat a kiss than giving a kiss to a person! L O L. That might say quite a lot about me but I hope it does not.

  2. I always think cats backs smell of chocolate, the first time I noticed this was with Bryan our brown tabby who came to us in 1990, I can’t remember noticing before that, when Walter lies on my chest or I bury my nose in Jozef’s fur I still always think of chocolate. Cats paws have a different smell again, warm and moist, I love to fit my nose in amongst Jozefs pads, not Walters though as he would have my nose off for that. 🙂

    • Babz, your comment is almost scientific but a very interesting comment. I don’t recognise the smell of chocolate when I sniff my cat but there may be a faint hint of it, which I am yet to recognise. And you make a good point about a cat’s paws. They probably smell different because they are a part of the cat’s anatomy that gives off scent in order that a cat can mark territory. As you know ,one of the reasons why cats scratch an object is to leave their scent on it.

  3. ‘Parfum du chat’ is more beautiful than any man made perfume, it is a warm addictive smell which affects the senses of this cat lover and drives me to bury my nose in their fur.

  4. ‘Parfum du chat’ – that, Ruth, is brilliant. It is certainly a perfume, a fragrance. It is a very delicate smell and a very nice smell. I would defy anybody to deny that a cat does not smell nice. And it is reasonable to presume that even a feral cat living under very difficult conditions, smells nice because he or she will be doing her usual grooming. We know that cats when they are healthy are fastidious about the condition of their coat.

    One of the things that a sick cat does not do is to groom themselves properly. This may also apply to a very old cat. I am sure that the coat of a sick cat smells differently to the coat all the healthy cat and as I said in the article I believe that the smell of a cat is indicative of a cat’s wellbeing and health.

  5. To me, the scent of a healthy cat is a very light sweetness.
    Call me crazy, but I experience some euphoria when I bury my face deep in the fur.

    • I agree that the smell is a very light sweetness. Although, it is quite hard to describe it in words except to say that it is a pleasant smell, which is the major reason why you and countless millions of other people like to bury their faces into a cat’s fur.

    • My cat smells lovely too! You make a nice point that cats may smell even nicer if they have just come in from the outside! All cats smell very nice but I wonder if some individual cats smell nicer than others. I doubt it but just a thought.

      Your comment was moderated because it seems that this was your 1st comment on this site but any further comment will be published immediately-thanks for visiting and sharing.

  6. I sniff Monty’s fur all the time and sometimes it does seem I can detect an odor, but I can’t tell you what it smells like. I enjoy it. I sniff him almost every time I pick him up.

    When I had severe magnesium depletion from Cipro I had really weird body odor, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and even I could smell it. I wondered what Monty thought of that. Surely, he noticed that Momma smelled different. Maybe that’s why he just laid quietly with me during that time, not bothering me to get up out of bed like he usually does when he feels I’ve rested enough. I’m going to keep sniffing Monty, because obviously illness can change body odor– a body odor even I might be able to detect, even if I can barely smell his normal body smell.

    • Illness can change body odor as you say. I suppose it is a check in some ways. Although I have never seen a vet sniff a cat! I hope you are OK and getting over that nasty episode.

      • Yesterday, Michael, I would have told you I had made close to a complete recovery, but I appear to be back at almost square one tonight. I’m suddenly severely magnesium deficient again, about exactly where I was one month ago. I had a bad cold that must have taken a lot of magnesium out of me. Just as the cold symptoms disappeared I found myself unable to sleep, my heart just racing every time I begin to drop off to sleep. Magnesium regulates your heart beat, and it allows your brain to sleep. My body appears to not have enough to do both at once at the moment. At least I am now taking antioxidants, including MitoQ, an incredible form of CoQ 10 proven to prevent tendon damage from Cipro. My tendons are safe, but I’m frustrated. Taking more magnesium, even soaking in Epsom salts, has done nothing. Some people have delayed reactions to Cipro that are worse than the initial reaction, but I assumed that was because they were running deficiencies without realizing it. I did not expect a complete reversal at this stage, even from a head cold. The peripheral neuropathy is back in my arms and I think I even have the funny body odor again, but it’s not terribly strong. Monty was just up here sniffing around. I don’t know if he noticed anything amiss. I wish he’d come up again onto the bed, because his little presence is incredibly comforting.

        • Ruth, I’m sorry to hear of your setback. However, you are in good hands, your own hands as you have a lot of knowledge about these sorts of things. You are treating yourself extremely well it seems to me. I think you’ll be all right. I hope so. My love to Monty.

          • Monty came up and hugged with me for awhile. His purr is very soothing. A healthy breakfast is restoring some feeling of normalcy. The headache I had yesterday should have clued me in. I cut back on magnesium because my cold was almost over. The good news, as I see it, is that the muscles that are right today are different than those where I initially experienced tightness a month ago and those that were right a month ago are fine now. I think when calcium rushed in as magnesium was chelated out I ended up with calcium deposits, calcifications in some tissues. My home ultrasound machine really helps with that. Do therapists use ultrasound in England? I think it’s a wonderful invention. Monty “helps” me ultrasound my tight muscles by standing in my way, sniffing the machine and brushing against parts of my body that have the ultrasound gel on them, getting it on himself.

  7. Pingback: What Do Cat Pheromones Smell Like | Secret PUA Blog

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