Friendly cat being hugged

Why Do Cats Smell Good? (And What Does It Mean?)

Cats smell good. It’s not all in your head. There’s a natural scent that they give off that humans find pleasing. In this article, we’re going to explore the many ways in which cats are wonderfully fragrant, and a few reasons why they might smell like doo-doo.

To start, we need to understand that cats smell good for a reason. Take a look at the big cats: lions, leopards, and tigers. These animals have a compound called 2 – AP that actually smells like hot buttered popcorn. That being said, you probably shouldn’t come close and smell their fur.

The scent of domestic cats is not quite as strong, but we can still smell it. A kitten gives off a fragrance that is calming and pleasing for humans, so no wonder we want to keep them around. The more we become familiar with this smell, the more that we love our cats! Makes sense.

Domestic Cats Are Pleasing

There are actually 9 glands that give off the scent in a cat. Most of these aromas are pleasing, but there are only 2 smells that we do not like in our cats. We bet you can guess what those are. The overall musk of a cat is pleasant, light, and warm. Like a summer day, but feline-style.

Are you smelling something light and fruity coming off of your cat? That is known as 4-thio-4-methylpentan-2-1. The smell comes off the most strong in female cats, or males when they are neutered. Humans describe it as being soft, powdery, and fruity. If you have a real nose for this stuff, you might describe it as redolent of currants.

Cats who give off a nutty scent are secreting this from their Pinna glands, which are on the cat’s head, just behind their ears. It’s often described as nutty, earthy, and similar to Jasmine rice. Maybe that’s why every time your cat is on your lap you get hungry.

Come And Pet Me!

Sensory Satisfaction: Why Do Cats Smell Good?

The trend here is that cats give off their most inviting scents from the places where they like to be petted. When you rub the cat in these key areas, it stimulates the production of light oils that both you and your kitty find pleasing. So, even though it seems a little sneaky that they secrete smells the way that they do, it benefits everyone in the end. There’s nothing like petting a cat and smelling cinnamon.

Love Smells Good

You’ve heard about human mothers that want to chew on their babies. They delight in the smell of their children and it makes the babes positively edible. Well, the same effect happens between you and your cat. When there is a lot of love between you, it intensifies the pleasurable smell, only making the love run more deep.

An amazing study was conducted in Switzerland whereby 44 men put on new T-shirts and were instructed to wear them for two nights straight. These shirts were then given to 49 women to smell, and they had to conclude which shirts were the most appealing.

After studying which woman chose which shirt, it became clear to scientists that women chose shirts of men that were immunologically dissimilar to them. The reason for this? Combining two different immune systems leads to stronger immune systems in the children that result from a coupling if you catch our drift.

No, we’re not saying you’re in love with your cat because you want strong offspring, but melding different immunity profiles are naturally appealing to us. You enjoy the smell of your cat, and your child, because the more delicious they smell the more motivation you have to take care of them. If cat’s had the ability to do so, they’d probably try to smell like pop tarts or pancakes.

But for these reasons, some cats just smell better to you than others, and you probably chose your cat because of that delicious smell when you first met them. It bonded you to the cat, and somehow, worked with your immune system as well.

Scent and Emotion

Grey cat and his owner sharing a moment

Fragrance has a way of playing into our deepest emotions. The smell of your cat bonds you to them, just as the smell of lemon meringue pie reminds you of your mother, or aftershave makes you think of your father. Smell connects us to each other, and to our fondest memories.

The remarkable thing is that each cat is different! You may have one kitty that smells earthy and warm, whilst another one smells sweet and fruity. It’s not uncommon for some cats to have really not much of a scent at all. Think of all the different ways that humans smell, then you can understand why each cat is unique.

It’s Not Just Your Cat That Smells Good

If you find the smell of your cat to be intoxicating, then there’s a good chance that your cat thinks the same thing about you. They definitely recognize your personal scent, and they associate it with love and protection.

Driving home this point is the fact that cats have a remarkable sense of smell; much stronger than our own. They use this sense of smell to anchor themselves into their territory and to connect with one another. So, say you have a perfume that you frequently use; you shouldn’t be switching it up any time soon. Cats like familiarity.

One trick that cats love is to – when leaving the house for quite some time – place one of your T-shirts where the cat can lie on it. They will find the fragrance not only pleasing but also reassuring, helping them with the stress of separation.

Lastly, keep in mind that a cat’s smell is greatly influenced by several factors, such as what they eat, what breed they are, and how much they clean themselves. Don’t judge a cat that has just been rescued from a shelter. With time and proper nutrition, their scent will change.

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The Smell of a Good Friendship

Sensory Satisfaction: Why Do Cats Smell Good?

That being said, don’t ignore the first impression that you get from a cat’s smell. When choosing a cat, it comes down to good chemistry, as with any relationship. If you pick a cat with an appealing scent, there’s a chance that you have the start of something good, and with time, you may just become addicted to the smell of that furry coat.

Now that we know the basics of why cats smell the way they do, we’re going to look at 10 different fragrances that are associated with cats. Some you’re going to love, and others, not so much. Let’s explore.

  1. Grass: It’s not uncommon for outdoor cats to smell like grass. Warm, earthy, and pleasing, there’s nothing like a feline that reminds you of a summer’s day.
  2. Dust: Just as earthy but not as appealing is the smell of dust. Your cat might smell like dust because cats are dust magnets, and if it’s floating in the air, it’s going to land on their coat.
  3. Poo: Okay, let’s be honest; some cats smell like poo. Every so often, a dingleberry will stick to their behinds. We’re all fallible.
  4. The Vet’s office: No one likes to smell like an office, but sometimes when your cat returns from the vet, that’s what they smell like.
  5. Cat Food: Cats have cat food breath, just like you have garlic breath after eating Thai food. So be it.
  6. Fritos: This is no joke. Many cat owners have insisted that their cats smell like Fritos. Sometimes dogs can even smell like corn chips. There’s no explanation for this phenomenon, but heck, who’s complaining?
  7. Sweetness: Some cats have a sweet, candy-like breath. Does your kitty smell like cotton candy or Fruit Loops? Count yourself lucky, because there’s nothing like that kind of sweet breath.
  8. Human Fragrance: It’s not uncommon for your smell to come off on your cat. Say the cat smells like your wife’s lotion or your husband’s cologne; these are all common. The reason for this is that your cat can soak up your smell like a sponge.
  9. Laundry: Have you noticed how your cat loves to sit on top of a pile of warm laundry? They not only like the feel of the warmth, but they also like the smell. If your cat smells like clean sheets, then count yourself blessed.
  10. Bliss: The last and most common thing that a cat smells like it bliss. Some owners will not be able to describe the fragrance, but they will say that whatever it is, it’s pure heaven. If you’re in love with the smell of your cat then quite frankly, you’re just in love.

So as you can see, there are many things that your cat can smell like, but the odds are that you find the smell delicious. If you didn’t like the smell of your cat, then you probably wouldn’t have bought them in the first place!

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Final Thoughts

The takeaway from all of this is that, before choosing a cat to bring into your home, you gotta smell them! No more ordering a cat from across the country, or gifting a cat that someone has never met. It’s important to get the chemistry just right, and to do that, you need to use your nose.

"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett

11 thoughts on “Why Do Cats Smell Good? (And What Does It Mean?)”

  1. BrookenButton

    My cat always smells like old lady perfume and I have no idea how – I don’t wear scented lotions or perfume and my hand soap doesn’t smell like that either. She never lets me pick her up either.

  2. While this article is interesting, I think using scent to choose a cat is a poor method. It could be a contributing factor if you liked the scent, but so many cats in shelters smell of fear, sickness, and poo. It just isn’t fair. I disliked how my kittens smelled for three months, but now they smell great to me! 🙂 Even when they smelled bad I loved them more than anything because I chose them for their sweet personalities.

  3. I have a cat that smells to me like cinnamon and one that has no discernible scent. I thought I was alone in the world til this topic came up on Reddit. I’m not alone. Sometimes it be like that.

  4. when my cat wants to ingratiate himself to me, or cuddle, he really smells like a baby. he’s fixed, but the vet thinks it’s possible they accidentally left a bit behind (he was a very small kitten), so he still has some drive to try and ‘mate’ with my roommate’s cat. and when he’s pursuing her, he does get a musky smell like a men’s cologne. don’t worry though, he can’t actually do the deed.

  5. My guy jokes about my “cat huffing” addiction. I love to snuggle up with my fur baby and rub my face in her fur while inhaling her “smell.” It’s incredibly calming to me and can often times immediately bring me back from the start of a panic attack, or just improve my overall mood. My cat smells like “bliss” as mentioned in the article. The best way I can describe it is: rainbows, the laughter of children, a sunny day in the middle of winter, a hug from your loved one, and softness – all rolled into one. It’s utterly fabulous.

  6. the fritos thing is real, first thing that comes up from google: “The “Fritos feet” phenomenon is from a bacteria called Pseudomonas and Proteus, which give off a yeasty odor that can smell like corn chips”.

  7. I always thought I was alone in thinking that my cat, not only had a particular aroma but a pleasant aroma. The scent itself is very difficult to describe but I guess it’s a cross between “bliss” as the article mentioned and the aroma of freshly baked bread. It’s indeed very calming and borderline addicting

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