Olfaction

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Although cats have less sensitivity to smells than a dog, whose is renowned for his olfactory prowess, a cat's olfactory skills far exceed humans. Specific odours are attractive to cats, particularly mineral odours (bleach), catnip, olive wood, valerian, asparagus, mint, papyrus, cloves, mimosa, pheromones, and meats (including viscera such as liver).

A large majority of feline behaviour is predominantly centred on a cat's olfactory sense of territorial containment. Stress is invoked when an individual cat feels threatened by another cat encroaching on its territory which it has marked through use of various scent mechanism including urine spraying, fecal droppings and scent marking[1].

Olfaction is much more important to cats than was formerly thought and maybe as important as vision. Cats investigate odors several hundred times per hour and are as avid in this respect as dogs. Areas of communication in which olfaction plays a role are:

a) scent marking with facial pheromones - located on the chin gland
b) scent marking with urine
c) scent marking with feces
d) anal gland secretions - epithelium of the anal sacs in cats contains sebaceous tissue that can give off oils unique to that of other carnivores.
e) clawing/scratching
f) gape response (c.f. vomeronasal organ)

Behavior problems related to olfaction include house soiling and furniture scratching.

References

  1. Albone, ES & Shirley, SG (1984) Mammalian semiochemistry: The investigation of chemical signals between mammals. John Wiley & Sons, Somerset, NJ