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Why Do Cats Open Their Mouths After They Smell Something?

why do cats open their mouths after they smell something

Cat smelling flowers with mouth slightly open

Not only do cats have a far better sense of smell than human beings but they also have a special organ designed to detect pheromones. This organ is the vomeronasal organ and it is located at the base of the nasal cavity. Its nerves carry messages on a separate route to the brain than that of the normal sense of smell. Cats regularly use this organ. Wikipedia describes the answer to why do cats open their mouths after they smell something this way:

Some mammals [including cats] use a distinctive facial movement called the flehmen response to direct inhaled compounds to this organ. The animal will lift its head after finding the odorant, wrinkle its nose while lifting its lips, and cease to breathe momentarily.

When snakes put their tongues out to touch something and then touch the top of their mouths with the tongue, they are using the same organ. Elephants do the same with their trunks. Human beings have a rudimentary version of this in the womb: but by birth it will almost completely disappear and it’s most likely that the remaining remnants do not work.  In contrast, for the cat the airborne chemical messages it detects by this organ are most important. Why do cats open their mouths after they smell something? When it opens its mouth it is savoring these signals which are highly enjoyable. For a few seconds it may  go into a trance like state as it works out what it all means. Opening the mouth heightens the experience.

Why Do Cats Open Their Mouths After They Smell Something? See it in action:

The most important meaning is about sex and reproduction. The female cats urine contains pheromones that trigger a strong open mouth reaction from a male cat. When the female is out of season the response is much weaker. Many other airborne smells can be detected this way and most cats regularly use this remarkable sense. Please share this with your friends using the button below.

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  1. My male cat does this all the time. We don’t have a female cat. My cat doesn’t go outside and he does this on certain furniture and not the floor, our shoes or clothing so what is he smelling? Don’t give me the “female urine” answer. Not even close.

    • They do the face when they are TRYING to detect pheromones. It doesn’t mean there are some.

    • We release pheromones too. They are strongest at the top of the head, nape of neck, wrists, arm pits, groin and our feet. Hence, why they do this after smelling our shoes, socks or underwear.

  2. Just because a cat does this, doesn’t necessarily mean that the odorant contains pheromones. A cat can be doing this to detect the existence of pheromones as well.

  3. My cat’s are the same I have male and female and my female cat does it more, especially when I’ve been Gym and she does it with my sweat on my T-shirt but it’s weird so why does she do that?

    • Rebecca j.Helms

      My cat does this with unfamiliar smells And all the hormones your secreting in your sweat are stronger than normal. Plus sweat picks up a lot of airborne smells from others -so there is your wonderful smell MAGNIFIED which is wonderful to her, plus unfamiliar smells from strangers. As to her doing it and not he, I’m not sure. I know my youngest female cat does this more than my other cats-but ALL cats are different.
      Some like to be high off the ground, and some like the floor. Different licks for different kits. ;D

  4. Like people I think the response is related to an over stimulation of the olfactory senses whether it’s stinky or pleasant it. If I smell something strong more so if it is stinky I turn away and slightly open my mouth and go blehhhhhhhhhh while slowly breathing out to clear the senses.

  5. My husband and I have three cats – two girls and a boy. All three of them have begun sniffing me, my clothes, or wherever I have been with their mouths open. The boy does it the most. They have also started being very clingy.
    I just found out I am eight weeks pregnant. Could my cats be smelling my pregnancy?

    • It’s a possibility. Animals can sense things like that. Dogs are the same way. All though they all react differently towards it.

    • I get it now. My cat does this when a new person is in the house. And I just rescued a stray kitten that does it with me. They are trying to figure out something about us by the pheramones they smell on us. And I can see why the cats started doing this with the pregnant woman above. she is releasing new and stronger pheramones and they are trying to figure it out.

  6. My male cat (Vader) does this. He’s the first cat I’ve seen do it and it confused me. Neither my mom’s cat nor my other cat does this. Vader actually did this to me the other night. I was trying to fall asleep and he walked up to me, sniffed my eye and did this before curling up next to me for his nightly cuddles.

  7. But my cat is the only cat I have and an indoor cat. This doesnt make sense.

    • It is TRYING to detect pheromones when it does this. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there are any.

      “Hmm, this smell is unfamiliar, I wonder if it contains any pheromones… *opens mouth* Nah, still no one around to reproduce with.”

  8. I know this is gross, but my cat also does it when she smells my armpit!

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