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28–31 Weeks: What to Expect From Your Kitten

A Guide to your Kitten's Senses: Smell :: Six Subtle Signs of Illness to Look for in Your Kitten :: Nutrition 101: Tips for Feeding Your Kitten a Healthy Diet :: Five Great Toys for You and Your Kitten

A Guide to your Kitten's Senses: Smell

Most people think of dogs as the masters of the scent world, but a cat's nose knows just as much as a dog's nose knows! This powerful sense of smell causes “scent memories”to leave a very strong impression on your kitten, for better or for worse. Here are some fast facts about your pet's nose:

  • A kitten's sense of smell starts functioning very soon after birth. It is, in fact, the first of a cat's senses to awaken. Even before your kitten could see or hear, he could find his mother's milk by following his nose. Your kitten's nose has about 200 million odor-sensitive cells and his ability to detect odors is comparable to a dog's.

  • If he has a traumatic experience associated with a smell, your kitten is likely to associate that smell with the traumatic episode and react badly to similar experiences throughout his life. This is one reason why a cat that comes home from the vet may get a growl and a swat from other resident cats, even if they were best buddies just an hour before.

  • Your kitten's sense of smell has a direct influence on his appetite. If he can't smell, he'll stop eating. This is why it's crucial that you seek treatment if he develops an upper respiratory infection. It's also why your kitten may turn her nose up at canned food that's been in the refrigerator. Try heating it up a bit (5 or 10 seconds in the microwave should do the trick) and see if he responds more positively.

  • Cats have a special organ called the Jacobson's Organ, two small sacs in the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. If something has a smell that really piques your kitten's interest, he will have a Flehmen reaction: he'll curl his lips, squint, flatten his ears, and show his teeth. This gesture helps channel the odor to the Jacobson's Organ, where the brain will analyze the scent's molecules.

  • The Flehmen reaction is most commonly seen in intact males when they detect pheromones from females in heat, but spayed or neutered cats can display Flehmen reactions to similarly powerful scents.

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