Categories: Jacobson's Organ

Why do cats taste the air?

Vomeronasal organ in cats

Why do cats taste the air? This is a question asked on the Internet and it is slightly misleading because although it looks like cats sometimes taste the air they are actually smelling an odour in a very accurate way.

When cats look like they are tasting the air they are, in fact, inhaling air into their mouths not for the purpose of passing over their tongues to taste it but to drive the air towards the roof of their mouth where it passes through two small ducts leading to the vomeronasal organ, which is an auxiliary olfactory sense organ (another organ to smell things) lying just above the roof of their mouths. Many animals have it and I think the question in the title is referring to the way that snakes “taste the air” because they too have the vomeronasal organ (Jacobson’s Organ).

This behaviour is called the Flehmen Response and you can see it in the videos and in the photograph of snow leopards. They have their mouths open, sucking in the air to obtain a really sensitive appraisal of a certain odour that they are picking up on the high mountains of the Himalayas.

Snow leopard Flehmen response. The cat has his/her mouth open. Photo is a still from the video below.

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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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