Cat scent marking is a part of their language and vocabulary. Scent is amazingly important to cats – it can be comforting, intriguing, threatening even informative. The feline sense of smell is very powerful, there is a whole world of information around us in the form of scent, that we cannot see! Cats have evolved to use scent in many ways, they can use their own scent to claim territory, self sooth, find their way home, or others scents to find their friends and avoid their enemies!
There are scent glands in certain parts of your cats face, like the cheeks and chin. These scent markings can actually be seen by our eyes if they are left to build up and look brown or black. Once you notice them you might want to break out the spray and wipe – however remember that your cat’s face is obviously rubbed against this surface frequently and that contact with household cleaners could harm them. These marks can be easily wiped away with a warm damp cloth.
Have you ever seen your cat turn their bum towards something and wiggle their tail? This can often be mistaken for “spraying” because it looks almost identical – just no urine comes out. Cats frequently use this kind of scent marking on flat surfaces and can be seen shaking their tail often when happy. I like to think of this as a cat fanning pheromones around the place.
We’re talking poops and pees ladies and gentlemen! The most obvious items in the cat scent marking arsenal (‘scuse the pun). Cats will mark their territory and claim it as their own personal space – so other cats know to stay away! A confident cat who wants everyone to know they are around will leave their poo uncovered by dirt – out there and proud. Where as the shyer cats will make sure everything is buried well so predators don’t know they are there. My most insecure cat will actually go back three or four times to re-bury everything in an obsessive compulsive way, just to make sure. Re-marking these scent boarders is part of your cats daily routine. When a cat leaves its territory i.e. you move house, or your cat sadly passes away – the scent markers fade and your backyard becomes fair game for anyone.
You’ve probably seen your cat do this and not known it. Your cat smells something, pauses, opens their mouth a little and looks off into the distance – as if the smell itself has been so bad they have wanted to faint. I call this “Stinky Face”. Only the best smells qualify for a stinky face! What is actually happening is that your cat is “tasting” the smell. Like an exquisite Marlborough wine tasting – they are using their nose and mouth to get the full bouquet of the smell. They may also lick their nose to taste the smell. The technical name for stinky face is the Flehmen response and many different types of animals have their own version of it.
we’ve all heard dog owners complain that their dog has rolled in something unimaginably disgusting and now needs a full grooming… Cats are much less likely to do that than dogs. Being quite clean animals they normally wont roll in something that will cake them in grossness but they will roll around on strong smelling things like your workout clothes or that patch of grass over there where another animal has been. This is an instinctive behaviour where your cat is camouflaging its own scent from predators. If they smell like sweaty gym socks their natural scent is masked a little, making them more stealthy, comforted and safe from curious predators.
So there you have it. Now you know a little bit more about scent marking! Scent is such a huge part of the language of a cat – its like a social media feed but invisible and for cats! Unwanted scent marking can become a problem for humans – but that’s for another time!