Cats orient themselves in their world mainly with their nose. With a quick sniff, cats can determine what an object is, who it belongs to, and where it has been. For this reason, your cat will immediately sniff out any new area she is in or any new object you give her.
Cats will smell anything to gather information and familiarize themselves with new smells. The cat can determine what territorial boundaries exist and if she wants to challenge them. She can decide where to leave her scent marks. Your cat might also detect prey or a potential new mate by smelling.
Cats sniff your hands or breath to determine who you are, where you’ve been, and what you’ve touched.
Sniffing other pets, whether cats or dogs, serves the same purpose. Cats also sniff the butts of other cats to find out their readiness to mate, age, and personality.
Air sniffing allows cats to gain information from a greater distance, so they don’t have to go investigate in person.
If your cat sniffs everything, you can be sure she’s found something interesting.
How Good is a Cat’s Sense of Smell?
Cats have an outstanding sense of smell. It is 14 times stronger than that of a human.
Cats have between 50 and 80 million olfactory receptors in their nose. Humans, on the other hand, have only 5 million.
Cats have a weaker nose than dogs but a more precise sense of smell.
Cats cannot hold odors for as long or perceive them from as far away. However, cats can distinguish one odor from another more accurately than dogs.
Researchers have found that cats are more likely to respond to the smell of decaying animals than herbs. They are also more likely than dogs to detect small changes in their food ingredients.
This means that when a cat investigates everything in your home, it gets a close look with its nose.
What Does It Mean When Cats Smell Everything?
In short, when your cat smells everything, she is trying to learn about everything.
While humans rely mainly on our sight and sense of touch to explore our surroundings, cats rely on their sense of smell.
This is their primary method of gathering information and interpreting the world around them. A quick sniff can tell a cat:
- Where there is food
- What will the weather be like
- What cats are around, and how many cats are around
- Whether someone is sick
- Whether something is poisonous
- What an object is made of
This list is certainly not exhaustive. Cats get a tremendous amount of information by closely sniffing objects, people, and other living things.
Therefore, it is unsurprising if your cat smells anything new to him.
When the cat is fresh with you, it will try to smell everything in the room, including the floors and walls.
If the cat has recently moved to a new home with you, even old and familiar items may take on a slightly new smell.
Once the cat has settled in, it may only smell things that are interesting or have piqued its curiosity.
Aside from general information gathering, cats can smell for various reasons.
Sniffing Out a Message
Cats use scents as one of their primary means of communication. Using various pheromones and scents, they can tell other cats:
- Where they are located
- What sex are they
- What territory or objects belong to them, and whether others should stay away
- Whether they are sick or enjoying good health
- Whether they are related to each other
- That they want to mate
In comparison, vocal communication falls by the wayside. Adult cats do not even meow at each other. This is almost exclusively reserved for humans.
When a cat wants to send a message to other cats, it does so with its scent glands, urine, feces, or saliva.
Any nearby cat can understand this with its intense nose. So, when cats smell everything, they may pick up messages from other cats.
In some cases, they may even try to interpret the scent of another animal, such as your dog.
Checking a Territory
While cats are not strictly territorial, they have preferred areas, objects, and creatures they call their own.
Since cats speak through smells, your cat’s first instinct when visiting a new place is to sniff everything out. With that, she essentially asks the following questions:
- Who is here?
- Does another cat have a claim on this place?
- How many cats have been here before?
- Do I want to try to conquer this place?
- Will it be safe if I try to share it?
- Are there any other animals nearby?
Cats are careful about what territory they enter and who they challenge.
Aside from hygienic reasons, most cats bury their feces to mask the smell of a dominant cat.
If they don’t want a fight, they don’t want others to think they are trying to take control.
Leaving a scent mark indicates ownership to a cat, so your cat may smell everything to find an existing scent mark.
She may find one, or she may not. If no scent mark is present, the cat will either leave her own or get bored and ignore the object.
If your cat has done this before but is doing it again now, consider whether you have inadvertently brought home a new scent.
Decide Where She Will Put a Scent Marker
It may be that the cat likes a place or toy, and the cat wants to claim it as her own.
To accomplish this, she sniffs the toy or room to decide where to leave her mark.
Your cat may smell the floor, investigate the sofa, or sniff tables. When she finds a spot she likes, she starts rubbing against the items.
A cat’s main scent glands are located on the face and neck. By stimulating these places, the cat releases pheromones that are unique to her.
By doing so, it leaves its unique trail and announces that the spot belongs to it. That is until another cat decides to mark the spot again.
Cats do this to other living creatures as well. When your cat smells the entire room and sniffs and rubs against you, other pets, and family members, she is gathering information and marking it.
This sniffing and marking allows the cat to do two things:
- She learns how the animal or person is doing, where she has been, and even her mood.
- She leaves her scent mark so that the animal or person is considered essential and can return the favor if she can.
In this way, cats can even classify other creatures as friendly and recognizable or as unknown and dangerous. The cat will recognize you from a distance because you have their scent mark.
Cats will often refresh this mark to recognize you as part of the family easily.
Decide Where to Scratch
Cats smell to decide if there is an appropriate place to sharpen their claws. This may be an unsuitable place, such as your sofa or a new scratching post your cat has never seen.
Smelling it will give your cat valuable information about the object:
- What is it made of?
- Does it have the right texture?
- Is there anything harmful on it, like mold or bacteria?
- Is it being claimed by another cat?
Once your cat has this insight, she can decide if she wants to scratch the spot. If she starts blindly, she may touch something harmful or unpleasant.
It can also be a waste of time, like scratching a wall that doesn’t offer enough resistance.
Although it seems strange to most people, cat scratching is closely related to the olfactory behavior of cats. This is because cats have more minor scent glands under their paw pads.
When a cat scratches on the sofa, a blanket, or the carpet, she leaves her scent to mark her territory. If she smells it beforehand, your cat can decide if she wants to do it at all.
Recognizing a Partner
When your cat is well settled in the home, she shouldn’t have much to smell and explore.
However, that may change if she senses the pheromones of a nearby mate. This is especially the case if your cat is not neutered.
A male cat can detect the scent of a cat in heat from a distance of up to 2 miles (3 kilometers). Of course, this depends on the direction of the wind, whether both cats are outside, and factors such as humidity and temperature.
However, it does mean that your male cat can smell a female cat outside or walking through your house.
If you have recently been babysitting a friend’s cat, even the residual smell on you could send your cat into a scent frenzy when you get home.
The cat might then be encouraged to smell all the places you’ve touched in the house or the clothes the potential mate has touched.
Why Do Cats Sniff the Air?
By sniffing the air, cats can detect many scents and pheromones.
The scents carried by the wind allow cats to smell over long distances. As experienced hunters, they are even smart enough to stay downwind of their prey.
This improves their ability to detect and track prey. And it prevents the prey from smelling them as well.
Cats even use a unique organ to detect more scents in the air.
This organ is called Jacobson’s organ or vomeronasal organ. It is in the nasal cavity and has openings at the top of the cat’s mouth behind the incisors.
This organ acts like a second nose. However, it does not serve to enhance the performance of the existing olfactory system.
The Jacobson organ detects more subtle pheromone signals that the nose cannot smell. To do this, cats open their mouths as if smiling and inhale.
When your cat smells the air, especially with its mouth open, it tries to narrow down a particular scent.
The Jacobson organ primarily detects pheromones related to mating. In kittens, it also distinguishes their mother from other female cats.
Aside from these two purposes, however, your cat may also be trying to detect:
- Where food is available
- How close the prey is
- Where other cats are
- What an unknown smell means
Why Do Cats Smell the Ground?
The ground may seem plain and uninteresting, but to a cat, it holds many odor-related secrets. These include the smell of:
- Spilled and cleaned up food
- Traces of catnip from a toy
- Other pets
- Shoe polish
- Cleaning products
- Anything else that is strange and unfamiliar
Because a cat’s sense of smell is so strong, it doesn’t have to put its nose directly on the ground to detect these things. Sniffing near the floor is quite enough.
You should check that area if your cat is constantly smelling the floor. There may be strong residue from a spilled drink or odor residue from a mouse your cat ate there.
In some cases, pesticides in a room’s corners where the floor and the wall meet could attract your cat. Take a closer look and remove the scent marks if you are unsure.
Why Do Cats Smell Each Other’s Butts?
Like dogs, cats sniff each other’s bottoms to discover who they are and what they want. This formal hello is made possible by the use of scent glands.
In particular, a cat’s anal glands contain a wealth of information. Cats can determine health status, age, readiness to mate, and relationship with each other with a quick sniff.
In addition, each cat has a unique and distinctive scent. This allows cats to tell each other apart, guess if they are getting along, and establish a tentative ranking.
The cat that starts sniffing is usually the more dominant cat.
After waiting its turn, the submissive cat assesses the situation and usually leaves. However, some cats can be more persistent and become aggressive.
Not all cats are expressive communicators. Some often remain sitting when another cat approaches. Because they cover their anal glands with their tails, they do not reveal information about themselves.
Why Do Cats Smell Hands?
Cats sniff your hand because it is one of the most informative areas to smell. After all, your hands smell strongly of you, where you’ve been, and what you’ve touched.
Add to that some hand sweat and smells you pick up when you touch your hair or neck, and cats have all they need with just one sniff.
Also, cats are cautious and don’t feel comfortable invading your space immediately. This is especially true if you have just met the cat and have not yet bonded with it.
Staying near you puts the cat in danger if it does not yet trust you. When it sniffs your hand, you literally stay at arm’s length and still give the cat all the information it needs.
Cats will also gather information about where you’ve been, what you’ve touched, and what other cats you’ve been around.
She can only pick up these scents from another cat if she is nearby. Thus, if you pet a friend’s cat with your hand, your hand becomes the evidence.
Therefore, your cat may want to smell your palm or fingers immediately when you come home.
She needs to know who the other cat is if she tried to mark you and if your cat needs to reapply her mark.
Why Do Cats Smell Your Breath?
To a trusting cat, your breath is an essential source of information. We humans emit much of our characteristic odors through our mouths. In addition, these smells are also warm and moist.
By smelling your face, nose, and mouth, your cat can:
- Smell the characteristic scents that you produce.
- Get a better impression of your state of health
- Relax because of the warm smell
Cats can even detect the scent of tumors and certain other diseases.
Cell degeneration and – in the case of tumors – decay is thought to create a distinctive smell, especially when it is just under the skin.
Cats cannot detect this odor as well as dogs, as they have a more robust olfactory system.
However, there are reported cases of cats seeming to know when their owner is sick before the owner even knows it.
Since cats rely so heavily on communication through smell, it’s unsurprising that they can also communicate about their health through smell.
By checking your breath, your cat can subtly learn how you are doing and if something is wrong with your health.
However, that’s not the only reason. A cat might also sniff your mouth when hungry and suspect you have recently eaten something.
If she senses the smell of food, she will likely snuggle up to you, hoping to get something to eat herself.
Summary: Why Do Cats Smell Everything?
Cats smell everything because it is their most reliable way of understanding the world. It’s a normal and instinctive behavior.
Just as you would take a closer look at an unfamiliar thing, a cat will sniff it to get to know and understand it.