Cats have 40 x the number of odor sensitive cells in their noses as we humans do. They also have a vomeronasal organ in the roof of their mouths to process odors. Cats communicate by smell.

For a cat, odors can be associated with a particular place or individual animal, identifying that place or animal.

Another way cats communicate by smell is through semiochemicals. Odors can contain semiochemicals, molecules that carry “messages” from one organism to another. The organism receiving the “message” responds with a change in physiology or behavior. 

Semiochemicals that carry “messages” between members of the same species are called pheromones. For cats, pheromones are used to mark territorial boundaries, advertise that a cat is ready to mate, or send greetings. Lactating mother cats also produce a blend of “appeasing” pheromones,  that make kittens feel safe and reassured when their mothers are nearby.

Cats release pheromones from glands in their bodies. These glands can be found in…

  • the lips
  • the cheeks
  • the pads of the feet
  • at the base of the tail
  • the area surrounding the teats in females.
Glands producing pheromones
Locations of the glands that produce pheromones in the cat.

 

Cats communicate by smell


When your cat rubs his cheeks against furniture or that corner wall, he deposits pheromones there. Researchers have separated secretions from the sebaceous glands in your cat’s face into 5 pheromone-containing fractions. The “F3 fraction” is thought to be a friendly greeting, marking the area as safe.

Cat Appeasing Pheromone (CAP) is released when the mother cat nurses her kittens. It is a message to the kittens that they are safe and secure – after all, mom is there!

Cats also release pheromones when they scratch, marking territory with another pheromone, FIS or feline interdigital semiochemical. The cat making the scratch marks also leaves behind his own individual scent, giving the next cat who comes along an idea of who left the pheromone message. As time goes on, the pheromones/scents change. This change in pheromones/scents  notifies the incoming cat when the previous cat was there.

You can buy synthetic versions of feline pheromones

  • Facial marking pheromones: Feliway Classic or Comfort Zone Calming
  • CAP: Feliway Multicat or Comfort Zone Multicat.

Using Pheromones to Communicate with Your Cat


Synthetic versions of the F3 fraction of the facial pheromones and CAP have been made with the intention of calming cats and reducing conflict in multi-cat households. 

Facial Pheromones F3 Fraction


  • Diffuser or spray
  • Diffuser: place in areas you want your cat to identify as safe and secure, for example, sleeping areas.  You may not need to use the diffusers all the time – after all, your cat or cats are most likely marking these areas themselves. However, the diffuser could give an added boost in times of increased stress, such as home renovation.
  • F3 spray can help with  urine marking. Clean the marked spots with enzyme cleaners (eg. Tide), followed by rubbing alcohol. When dry, spray the spot with one of the F3 sprays.
  • The F3 spray is also useful to discourage scratching. Try spraying the area you DON’T want scratched with the F3 spray and place a scratching post nearby.

Cat Appeasing Pheromone


  • Diffuser
  • This product can be useful in multi-cat households when introducing a new cat. Place the diffuser in the common areas where all the cats will congregate.
  • You may not need to use this diffuser all the time but it can give a boost during times of stress, for example, when one cat returns from a veterinary visit.

A product called Feliscratch contained a synthetic version of FIS. Feliscratch was applied to the scratching post to encourage cats to use it.  Although this product was effective, it has recently been pulled off the market due to flagging sales.

No Feliscratch?

  • Make scratchers appealing with treats or catnip
  • If your cat will knead a small fleece blanket, it is possible that this blanket may have FIS deposited on it.
  • Placing the blanket near a new scratching post may attract your cat to the scratcher.

How effective are pheromones in communicating messages to cats?


How receptive an individual cat is to pheromone signals may depend upon her experience.  A free-roaming cat or cat who is a member of a multi-cat household will use the signals more than an indoor cat who lives alone.

You can think of pheromones as those signs in the library asking you to KEEP QUIET or the NO SMOKING signs – there is always someone who is talking or smoking. Compliance is never 100%.

Since cats communicate by smell, synthetic cat pheromones allow us to add some basic messages when we are trying to change a cat’s behavior. Pheromones are best used in conjunction with other behavior modifications.

Like what you see?

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2021 Phyllis Meyer
Liked it? Take a second to support The Feline Purrspective on Patreon!

1 thought on “cats communicate by smell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>