Do fragrances interfere with the human-to-cat relationship and cause health issues?

By fragrances I mean body perfumes and eau de toilette. The statistia website tells me that in America 39% of men use fragrances every day and 21% several times per week. For women the numbers are 41% and 27% respectively. Only 8% of women never use fragrances and for men the number is 15%. The conclusion is that a lot of people use fragrances a lot of the time. And a lot of these people will live with a domestic cat or cats; an animal that heavily relies upon their sense of smell to identify objects and recognise their surroundings.

Woman spraying perfume on their arm the worst for a cat
Woman spraying perfume on their arm the worst for a cat. Photo: Pixabay.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Domestic cats and perfume

Does your cat, like mine, constantly sniff your hand, your legs or your bedclothes? Cats seem to do this instinctively to remind themselves who they are interacting with even if they’ve known you for years. It’s a little reassurance for them and, of course, they exchange their scent with us by rubbing against us. I’ve said this a thousand times and I’m sure that 90% of the population of cat owners realise it by now; when a cat rubs against our legs they deposit their scent on our legs and receive our scent onto their flank. It’s a merging of scent and a merging of minds, if you like. It’s a good feeling for a cat, a friendly gesture and entirely natural. So, body odour is a big deal to a domestic cat.

Cats can be allergic to perfume
Cats can be allergic to perfume. Image in public domain.

So common sense tells me that if we mask our body odour it is likely to have a negative impact on our relationship with domestic cats. I don’t know the extent of that impact and perhaps domestic cats get used to it and recognise the perfume on their human companion and believe that it is their odour. This seems to be the logical outcome. But women and men don’t wear perfume all the time. And it probably wears off and changes in intensity over the day and therefore a domestic cat is receiving different body odours throughout the day. This might be confusing.

I have a feeling that it is not a major issue because if it was we would know about it as so many people wear fragrances and there are so many domestic cats living contentedly in millions of homes. But I think it is a point worth making.

If a cat owner never wore perfume and suddenly started it is possible that her cat would no longer recognise her as she would have lost her personalized scent.

Transfer of perfume from human to cat?

It is distinctly possible that some perfume may be transferred from human-to-cat during handling and petting. This may irritate a cat as they need to smell of themselves. It may also be an allergen to a cat causing asthma. The cat may lick off the perfume and ingest it. This may be a health issue. Allergies in cats are a fairly prevalent.

Dislike of body odour versus love of the cat

It seems to me that this is a conflict between a person’s dislike of their body odour, which must be the main reason why people wear fragrances, and the love of the family cat who needs to smell the natural scent of their human companion and caretaker.

Big cats and perfume

Amur Tiger Loves Chanel Perfume
Amur Tiger Loves Chanel Perfume. Image: MikeB.

We know that big cats like human perfumes and they have preferences (Amur tiger loves Chanel perfume). Scientific American wrote about it in 2014, saying that big cats roll around and cheek-rub and “just look to be in heaven” when they sniff cologne. We don’t get the same reaction from domestic cats, do we? It seems not but I’ve not bumped into a scientific study on it. It seems strange that there is a difference in this context as big cats react to catnip in the same way as domestic cats.

Melbourne zoo tiger Flehmen response
Melbourne zoo tiger Flehmen response. Sniffing the air -perhaps perfume. Photo in public domain.

Feline allergies

We do know that perfumes might not be that healthy for domestic cats. Apparently, the incidence of feline allergic airway disease has increased since the 1970s. It is believed that this is due to an increase in the use of fragrances by people.

If this is true then the wearing of fragrances is not only a barrier to a domestic cat recognising their companion through their natural body odour it may be doing them harm as well in creating an allergic reaction. Veterinarians say that perfumes can cause allergies in cats. Not good news, but I rarely see this discussed.

Feline asthma and air fresheners

It isn’t just fragrances which is so prevalent in the West that are problematic, a lot of homeowners use air fresheners which can cause feline allergic bronchitis (asthma). Ironically, some cat owners might use air fresheners to mask the smell of their cats (a double whammy against cats). My reference book indicates that feline asthma is rare in affecting about 1% of all domestic cats. That said, 1% of 90 million domestic cats in America is 9 million cats! So, 9 million cats in America may be suffering from asthma because they are allergic to the fragrance that their owner wears. That’s very unlikely because there are many other triggers such as tobacco smoke, kitty litter dust and carpet deodorisers. But the point is made. The solution is to remove the allergens from the atmosphere.

Conclusions

I wonder if the wearing of fragrances is less in cat owners than in the general public? It might be as there may be an awareness of the potential issues. I would like to suggest the impossible: no cat owner wears perfumes, ever! Impractical! But our scent is very important to our cats. We should let them smell it. Perfume probably stops it happening or interferes in that process. I have never worn after shave or any fragrance but I keep myself clean! 🙂

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