Cats and Science
Share this image

8 Interesting Facts About Your Cat’s Nose and Sense of Smell

Did you know cats have "nose prints," and no two nose prints are the same?

JaneA Kelley  |  Mar 16th 2015


There’s a lot more to your cat’s nose than you might think. Yes, it’s a cute spot to “boop,” but that cute little colorful nugget plays a huge role in your cat’s life. Here’s how.

Photo by Shutterstock

1. Your cat’s nose is her most important sense organ

Cats have 200 million scent receptors in their nasal cavity. Most breeds of dogs don’t have even close to that number. Your cat’s sense of smell guides her to prey, tells her if food is edible or toxic, tells her where you’ve been, and even helps her find her home if she gets lost.

2. Your cat’s nose tells her about other cats in the area

Outdoor cats mark their territory with urine or feces, so if your cat goes outdoors, she can tell if anyone’s been intruding in her space. Cats also use their sense of smell to detect female cats in heat; cats who are ready to mate release certain pheromones detectable only to the feline nose.

Cats use their noses to determine whether other animals have been in their territory. Photo CC-BY Feliciano Guimarães

3. Your cat’s sense of smell stimulates her appetite

Cats have very few taste receptors on their tongues compared to people, so it’s the smell rather than the flavor that stimulates her sense of hunger. That’s a big part of the reason why cats with respiratory infections or other nasal blockages stop eating: If they can’t smell their food, they won’t get hungry.

4. Mutual sniffing is a feline greeting

If you’ve watched two feline friends approach each other, sniff one another’s noses, sides, and butts, and then go on about their business together, you’ve watched the feline equivalent of, “Hey, how’s it going? Whatcha been up to?”

“Well, hello there, friend! How was your day?” Photo CC-BY-SA Joan!ta

5. There are smells cats really don’t like

Because cats’ noses are so sensitive, very strong odors are distasteful if not outright painful. This is one reason I recommend against using scented cat litter: The smell might be nice to you, but it could be overwhelming for your feline friend’s nose. Cats are also known to dislike the smell of citrus and tea tree (melaleuca) oil.

6. The color of a cat’s nose is directly related to the color of her fur

Black cats have black noses, white cats have pink noses, orange cats have orange noses, gray cats have gray noses, and so on. And if your cat is multicolored, she might just have a multicolored nose, too. Some kitties also have freckles on their noses.

This gray and white cat has a stripe right down her nose. That same stripe divides the color of her nose between pink and gray. Photo CC-BY Josh

7. Cats have “nose prints,” and no two cats’ nose prints are the same

Every cat’s nose has a unique pattern of bumps and ridges, just like humans’ fingerprints. There has apparently been some talk about using nose prints as a form of identification, but good luck with getting your cat to tolerate having her nose inked and pressed against a piece of paper!

8. Why do cats lick their noses? No one’s sure about that one

Some say it’s like a reset button for a cat’s sense of smell: licking the nose removes any residue such as pollen that may linger and interfere with the cat’s need to smell other things. Others say it’s a “tell” that a cat is anxious or nervous and has no connection with the sense of smell at all.

Do you have any weird questions about your cat’s nose or sense of smell? Ask them in the comments and I may answer them in a future post!

Read more about cats and science:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.