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Cat Scent Glands: Where They Are & What They Do

Last Updated on November 29, 2023 by Nicole Cosgrove

My cats own me. Every time Bubba Lee Kinsey and I share a sweet nuzzle, he is doing more than snuggling with me and reaffirming my belief that letting him share my living space is a good idea. He’s also marking me as his own personal human using the scent glands located on the sides of his face.

I suppose if I’m going to have a boss, I could do worse than my cats. They are, after all, shockingly cute, and their most grotesque demand is that I crouch down and scoop clumps of their poop out of a box of pulverized corn fibers (Arm & Hammer Essentials represent!) with a tiny plastic shovel. I work for free, but I am paid in purrs and unconditional love (d’aww).

And let’s face it — this scent gland business is actually pretty awesome. Here are four facts about this aspect of cat anatomy that explain why.

1. Scent glands are all over

Your cat’s scent glands are located in her mouth and on the sides of her head, the pads of her front paws, and her tail. The glands contain one-of-a-kind pheromones unique to her. It’s almost like my cat, Phoenix, walks around all day smearing eau de fussy calico on my furniture and dirty laundry.

Another way cats mark their territory is by scratching. To ensure your cat does not shred your lovely sofa, you certainly don’t have to declaw her. Instead, try keeping a scratching post nearby so she will have something to mark that is not the couch but still feels relevant to her. A scratching post kept in a corner away from high-traffic areas will probably be ignored.

If cats catch a whiff of an unfamiliar scent, they will know that a strange cat has invaded their personal space. In this way, they can also tell if you’ve been cheating on them with that pretty Siamese from down the block.

2. Cats also use urine to mark their territory

Known euphemistically as “spraying,” urine marking is a typical behavior of unneutered male cats, though female cats occasionally spray as well. When the eau de badass emanating from a cat’s scent glands is just not extreme enough, he may resort to spraying certain areas of the home with urine to ensure everyone knows not to mess with him. The urine is his passive-aggressive way of asserting his dominance without confronting anyone.

Typically, having cats spayed or neutered before they reach adulthood will curb this behavior, but if a cat feels threatened or insecure, he might start spraying regardless. Ensuring your cats feel confident and secure in their environment will help prevent them from peeing on your stuff. Everyone wins!

3. Cats can taste smells

Your cat has a vomeronasal (or Jacobson’s) organ in the roof of her mouth, which she uses to “taste” scents and analyze pheromones. If you catch your cat sitting around looking like a mouth-breather with her jaw hanging open, odds are she’s considering the finer points of a particular scent, in much the same way that snobby douche you went on a date with that once claimed he could taste a hint of blackberries in that wine.

The fact that cats can taste scents makes it even more disgusting that Bubba Lee Kinsey likes to sleep with his face crammed in my sweaty gym shoes.

4. Cats communicate using scents

When meeting a new cat, let her smell you first; this is how unfamiliar cats greet each other, with the dominant cat venturing the first sniff. Extend your hand toward her, and let her make the first move. If she likes what she smells, the two of you will be on the fast track to snuggle town.

About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.

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About the Author

Angela Lutz
Angela Lutz

Angela Lutz is a writer and editor who has been fascinated by felines since childhood. She has more than a decade of experience writing about everything from health care and books to yoga and spicy food. She has written for Catster since 2012. Angela lives near Kansas City, Mo., with her husband, son and three cats.

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