How (and why) cats Scent?
There are many endearing qualities of domesticated cats. In my humble opinion, the way they rub against a random object is the cutest feline behaviour that we see on cat photography sessions at our studio in Melbourne. But how (and why) do cats Scent?
All cat breeds have a number of glands, which are simply there to leave scents. We all assume that they have scent glands along the side of their head. However I for one didn’t know that they also have them on the base of their tail, on the corners of their lips and underneath their chin.
Additional glands that are located under their front paws are useful when ‘kneading’. Even the innocuous and charming behaviour of head ‘butting’ (or ‘bunting’) serves a purpose of depositing a trace amount of scent from glands on the top of their heads.
It will be no surprise to any of you readers that felines use these glands for territorial purposes. This is clearly something they have inherited from their ancestors in the wild.
It is a wonderful sensation when a cat rubs our legs – either horizontally or vertically. However what they are really doing is ‘marking’ us as part of their territory – almost claiming us as their personal ‘possession’. Whether it is a chair-leg, the side of a TV, a new cat-toy, a bath towel or a human limb – we are all being claimed :o)
A somewhat less pleasant form of marking has exactly the same purpose – urine-spraying! While far less desirable, I suspect we have all experienced the unique aroma of this scenting. In case you wondered what that pungent smell actually is, it is a trace amount of sulphur – similar in-fact to the distant smell of volcanic geysers.
Particularly when being scented by the side of a cat’s lips, there is the added benefit to the cat that they are conveniently picking up scents other than their own. Have you ever noticed a friendly and confident cat to rub against your leg, and then suddenly stop – do a U-turn, and carefully scent up and down your leg. This is often accompanied by their licking of lips to maximise the ‘olfactory response’. It could be another feline, another human – or simply a random object that made contact with our shoes or trousers. Either way, that smell is probably an unfamiliar one in the cat’s territory – and is therefore committed to memory. This is presumably in case that unfamiliar scent pops-up again in the future, and may require a more general (and cautious) reconnaissance of their ‘little-world’ :o)
Another interesting habit we all notice from time to time; is when a cat is rubbed and cuddled, and will suddenly lick its fur quite thoroughly. While nobody can be certain, it is thought that if the cat does not completely trust you, then they are ‘removing’ the human scent. Likewise, if the feline does know and trust you; then they are simply extending the emotional ‘experience’ all over their body. This is just another sign of the emotional intelligence that all cats demonstrate in their day-to-day lives in our households :o)
Here are some images of sweet-smelling felines from our recent photography sessions:
If you would like to read more on why cats scent, you may want to look at this amusing article
Scenting – Cat Photography Melbourne