It seems to me that there is a natural conflict of preference between the domestic cat and his human caretaker with respect to the pervading scent or smell in the air in the home. Are some of our homes too sterile from the standpoint of cat smells to be ideal places for the cat to live in?
Cats like their own smell and the smells they create. They are not squeamish about it as are humans. Cats deposit their scent on parts of the home through the glands on their cheeks and the sides of their body. We can’t smell it but it is important to them.
Cat poo and pee create stronger smells. Domestic cats mark territory with cat pee and to lesser extent poo. The smell makes a statement that that this is their place. It reassures them.
When a cat is insecure you might see them resting and remaining in their litter box. You’ll see this sometimes at cat shows. The smell of their poo or pee which has been removed from the litter box by us lingers and reassures them. It is a zone that belongs to them and in which they feel more relaxed.
Domestic cats often, but not always, bury their poo in the litter box. This is a submissive or subservient action. Perhaps the more insecure the cat, the more determined they will be to bury faeces. They don’t want to impose their signature on the territory “owned” by the dominant cat (or us). However, the smell lingers. There is this natural odour that reassures the domestic cat.
Cats rely a lot on scent. I suppose we see our home and feel it is our place. An Englishman’s home is his castle. This is based on human sight. We see it as our home and feel safe and relaxed in it.
Cats receive the same feeling from scent because their ability to smell scent is much more finely tuned than ours and far important in their lives.
As a consequence they probably need the scent of their poo and pee if they are insecure. We remove these scents as best we can because to us they are obnoxious and an embarrassment.
I wonder if this diametrically opposed attitude towards odour is detrimental to the welfare of domestic cats and something that we overlook.
Is it possible that our homes and particularly the homes of the house proud individual are too sterile in respect of scent and odour to be ideal places for a domestic cat to live in.
We can buy Feliway, an artificial pheromone, to calm cats. I wonder if something similar could be achieved if we were less fastidious about cleaning the litter box? Note: I am not suggesting we don’t clean litter boxes. I am just suggesting that we, as different species, have different lifestyles which in some ways are incompatible.
Photo by Melissa Wiese (modified as allowed)