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Why Is Your Cat Suddenly Sniffing Everything: 5 Vet-Approved Reasons

Chantelle Fowler

By Chantelle Fowler

Gray kitten sniffing a spider on a wall

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Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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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 they’re just inspecting their surroundings to try to make sense of them.

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

The 5 Reasons Your Cat May Suddenly Sniff Everything

1. They’re Picking Up a Message

Cats use their sense of smell to communicate with one another. We often think cats meow at each other as their only way to communicate, but vocalizing is one of the ways cats have to communicate between each other. 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. They’re Checking Territory

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

3. They’re Deciding Where to Mark Their Territory

In addition to checking territory, your kitty may be sniffing around because they are deciding what they want to claim as their own. You’ll know what objects or people your cat has claimed when you see them rubbing against things.

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

4. They’re Choosing Where to Scratch

Scratching is a normal behavior that cats participate in to mark objects with their scent, stretch their muscles, and keep their claws healthy. They use their noses to decide where a good place to sharpen their claws will be. Sniffing the object will tell your kitty a lot about it, like if another cat has been there before, if it’s safe to scratch, and what the texture will feel like. Once your cat has sniffed out all the information they can from the object in question, they can decide whether it is worthy of scratching.

5. They’re 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 they’re 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. Cats’ sense of smell is at least 10 to 20 times greater than that of humans. 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 a vomeronasal organ located on the roof of their mouth, also known as the Jacobson’s organ. 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 and other scents that humans can’t pick up. For example, 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.

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.

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

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 their environment and the people in it. So, you don’t need to worry if your cat is smelling things more than usual, as they likely just picked up on an interesting scent and are trying to figure out more about it.

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Featured Image Credit: Zanna Pesnina, Shutterstock

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