What Do Cats Smell Like?

The smell of a cat
The smell of a cat
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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.




24 thoughts on “What Do Cats Smell Like?”

  1. To me, my cats don’t smell like much of anything, except maybe the cat shampoo I use to bathe them with. Dogs, on the other hand, have that nasty doggie B.O. even shortly after a bath. Horses always smell pretty nice, except after rolling, and they happen to roll in doody. Snakes really don’t have an odor either.

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  2. Thank you for posing the question Michael. As I haven’t had cats for many years, I am researching for a short story involving a dog meeting a new cat for the first time, and this is the only post so far that has attempted to address the smell of a cat. Keep enjoying yours.

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  3. 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.

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    • 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.

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      • 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.

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        • 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.

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          • 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.

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