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5 Possible Reasons Why Your Cat Is Suddenly Sniffing Everything

Chantelle Fowler

By Chantelle Fowler

Gray kitten sniffing a spider on a wall

Cats do many perplexing things, like burying their food or staring off into space at nothing. One of the mysterious behaviors we often hear about is excessive sniffing. Cats have a fantastic sense of smell and use this sense to analyze their environment. So, if you see your cat sniffing around your house, know that it’s just inspecting its surroundings to try to make sense of them.

Keep reading to learn five things your kitty could use its powerful sniffer for.

The 5 Possible Reasons Why Your Cat Is Suddenly Sniffing Everything

1. It’s picking up a message

Cats use their sense of smell to communicate with one another. We often think cats meow at each other to communicate, but meowing is actually reserved entirely for talking to humans. Cats send messages to their feline friends and foes using their scent glands, urine, feces, and saliva. They use their pheromones to tell other cats their whereabouts, their gender, what belongs to them, and their current health status.

cat sniffing on the ground
Image Credit: Vaclav Sonnek, Shutterstock

2. It’s checking territory

Cats can be territorial creatures and, as such, have areas of your home that they claim as their own. Cats have scent glands on their cheeks, paws, and flanks, and when they rub these areas on objects (or people) in your home, they’re essentially claiming it as their own. If your cat starts sniffing everything in your home, it is trying to figure out whether another cat has claimed that spot, how many other kitties have been there, and deciding whether it wants to try and take that place.

3. It’s deciding where to mark its territory

In addition to checking territory, your kitty may be sniffing around because it is deciding what it wants to claim as its own. You’ll know what objects or people your cat has claimed when you see it rubbing against things.

cat rubbing against the sofa to show territory
Image Credit: bombermoon, Shutterstock

4. It’s choosing where to scratch

Scratching is a normal behavior that cats participate in to sharpen their nails, get a good stretch, and to mark their territory. They use their noses to decide where a good place to sharpen their claws will be. Sniffing the object (or person) will tell your kitty a lot about it, like what it’s made of, if it’s safe to scratch, and what the texture will feel like. Once your cat has sniffed out all the information it can from the object in question, it can decide whether it is worthy of scratching.

5. It’s searching for a mate

You already know that cats are professionals at detecting pheromones, but did you know that your kitty may be sniffing around because it’s looking for a mate? Male cats can smell a female in heat up to two miles away. So if there’s a potential mate around, your male kitty could be trying to sniff everything to get as much information about the female in question as possible.

female and male british shorthair cats lying on the floor in mating period
Image Credit: Georgy Dzyura, Shutterstock

How Good Is a Cat’s Sense of Smell?

Cats, like humans, have five basic senses: taste, touch, hearing, smell, and sight. Of these five senses, cats rely most heavily on scent. Their sense of smell is much more advanced than humans, as their smelling ability is 14 times more sensitive than ours. A human’s nose has five million olfactory receptors that we use to detect scents, while cats have up to 200 million.

It’s not just your kitty’s sniffer that works overtime, though. Cats are among a group of mammals with an organ known as Jacobson’s organ inside their nasal cavities. This organ contains ducts that lead to your cat’s nose and mouth and acts as a scent analyzer. Cats use it to analyze pheromones from other cats and intact males use it quite often while reacting to the pheromones in the urine of a female cat in heat.

Cats have fewer scent receptors than dogs but a more precise sense of smell. They can’t retain scents as long as dogs can or detect them from far away, but they can distinguish scents from others with better accuracy than their canine counterparts.

a young red tabby cat sniffing the floor
Image Credit: Alex Konon, Shutterstock

Why Is My Cat Smelling the Air?

Some mammals with a Jacobson’s organ exhibit a behavior known as the Flehmen Response. Though you likely don’t recognize the name of this behavior, you’ve certainly giggled at a cat that’s exhibited it. The Flehmen Response happens when cats try to expose as much of the scent-infused air to their Jacobson’s organ so they can learn as much about the smell as possible. They do this by opening their mouths slightly and curling their upper lip.

Final Thoughts

Cats participate in many strange behaviors, and excessively sniffing is one of them. The good news is that this is an entirely normal act that every cat will do to learn more about its environment and the people in it. So, you don’t need to worry if your cat is smelling things more than usual, as it likely just picked up on an interesting scent and is trying to figure out more about it.

Featured Image Credit: Zanna Pesnina, Shutterstock

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