Categories: senses

Humans hate their body odour but cats love it

A lot has been written about the domestic cat’s dependence on scent. They depend upon it in so many aspects of their lives. It is crucially important to them. They love the scent of their human guardians. The bedroom is a “scent soaker” according to Jackson Galaxy. He means that the bedroom is dripping in the body odour of the humans who sleep in that room. It’s a core room for a cat. It reassures them. When we go to the toilet and have a poo, domestic cats love it. Alright, I’ve made the point that domestic cats depend upon their sense of smell in so many ways including marking territory which leaves a message to other cats as to when and where the marker was there.

BO chemical in humans. Image: PoC.

In complete contrast to our feline friends, humans have struggled for eons to cover up the smell of their bodies. We call it body odour, BO, a derogative term. The ancient Egyptians daubed their armpits with spices and citrus oils to quash that embarrassing smell that cats know so well. Millennia later the human is still covering up their natural scent with perfumes and deodorants.

Thioalcohol

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Scientists have now discovered what causes body odour. They did some research under the armpits of humans 🙂 . Particular types of sweat glands there deposit sweat on the skin. We know that. An enzyme in the form of a special protein within a particular bacteria known as Staphylococcus hominis is on the skin. This enzyme splits the odourless molecules produced by the sweat gland into amino acids. The bacteria consumes the amino acids leaving behind a volatile compound, thioalcohol.

This substance produces a pungent smell. It’s been compared to onions or sulphur. Apparently, it is the prime reason why unwashed humans smell as they do. You know, you are on a bus and there’s one person who has not washed in about 12 months. Yes, he’s the person who is dripping with thioalcohol! It has been theorised that in anthropological terms the reason why this odorous chemical was produced on our skin was to deter predators. You can imagine the very smelly early humans of those years, eons ago. Their disgusting smell was their defence system, it has been suggested by Lewis Leakey, a British anthropologist, in the late 1970s.

Preventing body odour

Now that the scientists have identified a chemical process which causes body odour they are able, they believe, to find a small molecule “that latches onto the enzyme and prevent it from working”. That would be the magic moment when humans concerned about their body odour will no longer need to buy deodorant or perfume. Perhaps they will still buy perfume because a lot of people have got used to smelling like perfume.

Dangers of chemicals to cats

This brings me nicely to another point. From the point of view of domestic cat companions I don’t think that it is wise to smell of perfume. This is because you are masking your natural body odour which your cat needs to identify you. Also, some of these chemicals that people put on themselves are toxic to cats. They might rub against them if they are on a person’s arm and deposit the substance on their skin where it is licked off. Or they might lick the person’s skin and ingest a chemical which smells nice but which is toxic to cats.

Yes, we are very different from domestic gas. We want to hide our natural body odour. They want to highlight theirs. I think their way of doing things is better. Personally, I have never used deodorant but I keep myself clean!

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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