Scent matters to your cat. Scent is your cat’s calling card. It also tells your kitty lots of information about other cats in his environment. For your cat, scent is a valuable communication tool. Being the verbal species that we are, humans don’t truly appreciate the volumes of information provided in scent, but trust me, your cat is on the case. The scent he leaves behind is an encyclopedia of information about him.
Your Cat’s Scent Glands
Cats have scent glands on their paws pads, their cheeks, on their head and there are also two little anal glands on each side of the rectum that release a very strong-smelling liquid to mark the cat’s stool as it passes through (as if cat poo didn’t have enough of a smell!). Then of course there’s the scent of urine. Anyone who has ever lived with a cat or had a neighbor’s cat visit their garden is familiar with the smell of cat urine. If that urine belongs to an unneutered male then it increases the odor factor even more.
Scent glands release pheromones. These pheromones are actually chemicals that provide information. In an outdoor setting, scent communication is vital because it reveals information about one cat to another without the risk (hopefully) of a physical confrontation. For an outdoor cat this is a very important survival benefit. The fewer physical altercations that occur, the greater the chances that kitty will live unscathed to see another day.
How Cats Use Scent
Scent is used to identify members of the same colony, define territory, create familiarity, announce sexual readiness, learn more about unfamiliar cats in the environment, self-soothe, bond with another, or as a form of covert aggression.
The scent glands around the face are identified as friendly or low-intensity. These are used when kitty is marking familiar objects that he considers part of his turf, or when he’s depositing scent as a bonding gesture such as when head bunting. You’re also probably very familiar with the sight of your cat cheek-rubbing on objects in the home. This is a comforting behavior for him and reflects his sense of security and familiarity with the environment.
The scent glands in his paw pads get used when he scratches on objects for marking. In addition to leaving a visual mark from his claws, he leaves an olfactory mark through the scent glands. Now that’s an animal who really makes sure his presence is known!
The pheromones that are associated with the back end of the cat, such as the ones released during urine-marking are high-intensity. There’s nothing calm about those pheromones. When a cat sprays it’s done under stressful or exciting circumstances.
And with all that incredible scent depositing going on in a cat’s environment, it’s a good thing he also has such a highly developed sniffer to decode all the information left by other cats’ pheromones.
The cat’s body is so amazing, isn’t it?
Want More Information?
For more specific information on cat behavior and training, refer to Pam’s books, including Think Like a Cat.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.