Being ‘Nosey’!

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There is no animal who will investigate a different smell more earnestly than the cat. Their sense of smell is highly developed and very little escapes them.

Cats will pick up new smells in many ways… their owner’s clothing, another cat’s coat, smells coming in from an open window, plants and perfume. Sniffing seems to intensify the smell and the desire to investigate becomes paramount until their quest is complete.

Smell…. right from beginning…

It seems that almost from birth, kittens develop this keen sense of smell and react very strongly to unpleasant and offensive odours. It is important that this sense of smell is developed early so that they can pick up the mammary glands of their mother and it appears that within 3-4 days they have selected the one nipple that they prefer to nurse from and generally return to it every time they drink.
It is the smell that guides kittens back to their area and they become quite distressed if they are not able to return to the
area where they have become accustomed to a certain smell. When kittens begin to roam, they seem to have no trouble finding their way back to their own bedding or where their mother is resting. Despite the fact that once they are able to see they still rely on the smell of familiar areas.
We have all seen a cat curling their top lip and this occurs as a cat inhales odours that are not familiar to them. At approximately six weeks of age, a kitten will sniff odours, such as urine or droppings and is often seen touching the odour followed by the raising of their head, wrinkling their nose and pulling their lip back and opening their mouth. Tomcats do this regularly when they are out seeking a mate or when they sense that another Tomcat has been in their area.

Using their sense of smell…

  • Most cats, although not all, love the smell of plants, valerian and catnip and they also like many other herbs as well.
  • Perfume can be almost intoxicating to a cat and they often endeavour to wash their owners clean from the area of the perfume on the body.
  • Cats will sit as near to the oven and stove as they can, and still be safe, and absorb the smell of the evening meal… licking their lips in anticipation of sharing this beautifully interesting meal.
  • Few cats have a problem in finding food that has been put away but with the smell still lingering. Their sniff takes them directly to that piece of meat which appears hidden to us, but not to the cat and his nose.
  • The mating of the cat is also vitally connected to their sense of smell. Male cats can locate a female in heat a great distance away. Unfortunately he also encounters other cats who have picked up the same scent and battle for supremacy.
  • Cats can tell if strangers have been in their surroundings and they seem to readily recognise the smell of their pet parents.
  • Moving home can bring on quite distressing moods in cats until they have settled into their new environment so we should always endeavour to bring something from their previous home which will have a familiar scent and have a calming effect on the cat.

(Joan Henderson is based in Australia and she has judged furry felines in many other countries including USA, Bermuda, Malaysia, South Africa, Hong Kong, Philippines and New Zealand)