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Why Do Cats Smell Good? 5 Reasons for This Phenomenon

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

Cat grooming self on concrete floor

How much do you love burying your nose into your cat’s soft fur? If you thought you were the only one who loved smelling your cat, you’re not alone. Dogs have that distinctive doggy smell that usually requires the occasional bath, yet we never need to bathe our cats. What exactly is going on here?

We’ve uncovered five reasons for this unusual phenomenon and why we have the urge to inhale that scent.

hepper single cat paw divider

The 5 Reasons Why Cats Smell Good

1. All That Grooming

cat licking paws
Image Credit: TeamK, Pixabay

Did you know cats spend about 30% to 50% of their day grooming? Your cat’s tongue is covered in minuscule, little spines called “papillae,” with hollow and curved tips. These tiny “hooks” make your cat’s tongue feel like sandpaper.

They are exceptionally effective at keeping your cat’s coat clean and relatively tangle-free. What seems like almost constant grooming keeps your cat’s coat and skin clean, which also helps keep them odor-free.

2. It’s a Question of Survival

For a cat’s wild ancestors and for stray and feral cats, not having a strong scent can mean the difference between life and death. While cats are capable predators, there are larger predators that go after cats as prey.

That is also why cats prefer high places and smaller, cave-like enclosed spaces (like your brand-new bag). Cats can’t have a strong smell coming from their bodies because it will draw predators to them, and it could also warn their next meal that there’s a cat in the vicinity.

Cats are good at hiding, stalking, and pouncing when hunting, and the last thing they want is to give away their presence with their strong odor. That is also why cats bury their waste. Cats are also solitary, particularly when they hunt, so having a strong scent to identify themselves to other cats isn’t necessary.

3. Cats Love to Sleep

Cat sleeping with a woman
Image Credit: Neverfurgetmypet, Pixabay

Our cats spend so much time sleeping, and they often like sleeping near something that smells quite nice—hopefully not your freshly washed and dried clothing! But we all pick up scents from where we live, particularly our hair.

So, if your cat is sleeping on your clean sheets or another sweet-smelling surface, this could be another reason that you enjoy your cat’s scent.

4. Cats Smell Familiar

While cats groom themselves and get their pheromones all over their coats, they also smell like you and your home. Many cat owners report that when they smell someone else’s cat, they somehow smell “wrong.” This might be because the cat doesn’t smell like you and your home.

There isn’t any sense of familiarity with this strange cat. Most people can’t even detect a smell at home, which can help explain why your cat smells almost neutral yet comforting.

5. It’s All About the Bond

woman in chair with cat on lap sleeping by tree
Image credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

As a cat owner, you have a strong bond with your cat. Perhaps it can mean there’s a slight bias about how much you enjoy your cat’s scent. It’s like how the smell of lilacs might remind you of your mother, or an apple pie baking in the oven will make you think of your grandfather.

Our sense of smell can bring up strong memories and associations with loved ones, and it’s likely that we enjoy smelling our cats because of our love for them.

Should You Give Your Cat a Bath?

For the most part, cats groom themselves quite well. It distributes the cat’s natural oils throughout their coat, which helps waterproof their fur and keep their skin and coat healthy. Bathing a cat can strip the natural oils and dry their skin out.

However, as cats age, they will have more difficulty grooming, particularly if they’re arthritic or obese. Sometimes, your cat might have parasites or have gotten into something particularly sticky and messy. There are certain substances that you won’t want your cat to lick because they might be toxic.

You’ll use a medicated shampoo your vet recommends if your cat has parasites or other skin issues. Or you can use a shampoo specially formulated for cats so you know that it won’t dry out the skin or leave behind residue that will be unhealthy for your cat to lick off. If it’s just a mess that needs cleaning up on the fur, try grooming wipes.

Persian cat bathing
Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock


Now you know that you’re not the only cat person out there who loves smelling their cat (we do it, too), your cat likely smells like you, and you probably smell like your cat. You can help your cat by regularly grooming and brushing their lovely coat. This will help keep tangles and mats away, which can be painful for your cat. You can spend more time bonding, and it gives you the opportunity to sniff the top of your cat’s head! That sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

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Featured Image Credit: user32212, Pixabay

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