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Why Do Cats Like Smelly Stuff? Facts & FAQ

Written by: Elizabeth Gray

Last Updated on June 21, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Cat smelling laundry basket

Why Do Cats Like Smelly Stuff? Facts & FAQ


Dr. Ashley Darby Photo


Dr. Ashley Darby

Veterinarian, BVSc

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dog owners are painfully aware that their pets are often attracted by strong scents. However, many cats also seem to enjoy robust odors, such as dirty laundry or stinky shoes. Have you ever wondered why, especially since cats generally take their hygiene so seriously?

Cats probably like smelly objects because they rely on their sense of smell as one of their primary means of communication and information. They may also be comforted by items that smell like you. Keep reading to learn why your kitty loves snoozing on your smelly shoes.

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Your Cat’s Sense of Smell

A cat’s sense of smell is at least 10 times more sensitive than ours. Humans have only about 5 million odor sensors in their noses, while cats have a whopping 50 million or more! Not only that, but air entering a cat’s nostrils is divided into two streams; one for respiration and another for high speed scent detection. Cats are better at smelling than humans and much better at distinguishing between individual scents as well.

Because of that, cats rely heavily on their sense of smell to give them information. You may think your shoes stink, but your cat can learn a lot from the strong odors, such as where you’ve been and if you encountered any other cats along the way. The stronger the aroma, the more information is available to them. It’s a natural instinct for cats to gather information about their environment through smell. In the wild, this is vital to detect danger, prey, and mates.

Scent is the primary way that cats communicate with each other. When your cat rubs their face on you or other objects, for example, they’re marking their scent. Cats use scent to mark their territory and perform behaviors like sniffing each other’s rear ends to gather information.

Cat smell toy
Image By: Magui RF, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do Our Cats Find Our Scent Comforting?

Cats often seem to gravitate toward napping on used bath towels, dirty laundry, and other items that smell like their owners. The simple explanation is that they find our smell comforting, but that isn’t always true.

A 2021 research study suggested that cats don’t get much comfort from scent objects and may even be stressed when their owner’s scent is present without the physical person.

However, this study included other variables that prevent drawing a definite conclusion.

Are Some Smells Stressful for Cats?

Yes, because their noses are so sensitive, some odors can be stressful to your cat. For example, many cats avoid using scented litter and don’t like strong chemical smells like perfume or hand sanitizer.

Veterinary staff and other people who work with animals may find that their pets react badly to the smell of their clothes and shoes when they come home. Unfortunately, some cats pee on dirty clothes to counteract the smell of unfamiliar kitties.

Image Credit: Zoran Photographer, Shutterstock

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Cats like pungent odors because their sensitive noses allow them to gather information from strong scents. Your cat may be drawn to items that smell like you because they gain comfort from them, too.

In some cases, cats find strong smells upsetting, especially if they detect unfamiliar animals or people. When that happens, your cat may try to mask the odors with their own smells. If you come home smelling like other cats, consider placing your clothes directly into the washer to avoid any unpleasant reactions from your pet.

Featured Image Credit: jajam_e, Shutterstock

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