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Smelly Cat, oh, Smelly Cat! Or, Why Does my Cat Like Dirty Socks?

Smelly Cat, oh, Smelly Cat! Or, Why Does my Cat Like Dirty Socks?

Posted by Andrea on 17th Sep 2020

Have you wondered why your favorite feline can be found snoozing on top of your gym shoes or dirty clothes? It seems they have a strange attraction to extremely smelly stuff. Does it have to do with the fact that their sense of smell happens to be one of the cat’s most magnificent superpowers?

As it turns out, cats and many other animals developed this superpower when they needed to communicate with others and assess the safety of their environment. In the same way humans rely primarily on their eyesight to navigate the world, the visual cortex dominant in our brains; it seems that animals rely on their ability to smell, via a dominant olfactory cortex. This need for scent sense dominance has caused them to develop their super smelling powers!

To be a bit more scientific: It is the number of olfactory receptors within the nose that determine the ability to distinguish scents. While humans have about 5 million receptors in their noses, your feline has about 100 million of these. Therefore, the cat’s sense of smell is roughly 20 times stronger than ours. That’s quite a lot to take in for those tiny feline noses!

And, since their noses are so small, cats come with extra scent glands. These are on their heads, under their chins, on their cheeks, around their mouths, under their ears, and on their foreheads. Humans have the advantage when it comes to seeing in daytime, but it is clear that cats have the advantage with smell.

Further, cats and certain animals like dogs, horses and wild cats have an even more extreme advantage with yet another olfactory organ in the roof of their mouths. Called the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson’s organ, this is what they are utilizing when you see Kitty open her mouth wide and stick her tongue out. She is actually smelling her surroundings. When cats do this, it enables them to get a better, magnified scent determinaton. If they are smelling something they are not used to, they will often use the vomeronasal organ to make a better identification of just what it is they are smelling. It may look odd when you notice it, but now you know exactly what they are doing and why. In the feline world, this is the equivalent of a human putting on glasses to see more clearly.

Just as people greet each other by visual recognition, the cat will greet you by sniffing you and rubbing her scent onto you. Cats greet each other by touching noses or sniffing each other’s butts. Believe it or not, this is because their anal sacs emit odors that are unique to each individual cat.

Now for the smelly stuff…

If you haven’t guessed by now, cats are comforted by the scents of their favorite people. If your cat has separation anxiety, you should purposefully leave out something drenched in your scent. For that reason, those items with the greatest concentration of your smells will be favored. Hence, dirty gym clothes! The more sweat, the better to smell you with.

So, the next time Kitty comes around for a smell, consider it a compliment. And, when she sleeps in your grungiest sneaks, know that you are all hers--and not the other way around!

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