How Come Cats Leave Their Mouths Open After They Smell Something?

| March 24, 2011 | 19 Comments
Caymus after smelling Triggs butt. Gross. April 17 2010 196x300 How Come Cats Leave Their Mouths Open After They Smell Something?

Caymus after smelling Trigg’s butt. Gross. April 17, 2010

Rags used to do this quite frequently and I came to hate it because it was often after smelling urine or another cat’s butt.  But, when I found out what he was doing, I thought it was pretty rad.

Do you know what I am talking about – where they leave their mouth slightly open and then sort of daze off for a second and then lick their nose and close their mouth again?

Last week, I ran across the street to a neighbor’s house to grab their recycle bin that had been at the curb for a few days – I figured they were out of town, so I put the bin behind their house and came back home.  When I came back home, Charlie would not stop smelling me and I

Caymus Still taking it in. April 17 2010 210x300 How Come Cats Leave Their Mouths Open After They Smell Something?

Caymus still taking it in. April 17, 2010

couldn’t figure out why until later when I had stopped by my parents house and Caymus couldn’t leave me alone either – Caymus never shows attention like that, so I knew I had something on me.  Came to find out that the recycle bin had been sprayed by a male cat and I had the smell of urine on my pants – LOVELY.

So when I came home, I immediately changed out of my

Trigg Using His Jacobsons Organ 300x224 How Come Cats Leave Their Mouths Open After They Smell Something?

Trigg Using His Jacobson’s Organ

pants and had Charlie and Trigg give them a good whiff, so that I could get a photo for this post!

There’s a fantastic website called, Pet Tails that lays this out more in detail and that’s where I got this information.

The act of opening the mouth and drawing up the air to the Jacobson’s organ is called the “flehmen reaction”.

Charlie using his Jacobsons organ 224x300 How Come Cats Leave Their Mouths Open After They Smell Something?

Charlie using his Jacobson’s organ

Essentially, the cat is opening her mouth to suck in the air into the Jacobson’s organ and take a really deep sniff of the odor.

Charlies flehmen reaction 218x300 How Come Cats Leave Their Mouths Open After They Smell Something?

Charlie’s flehmen reaction

This special sensory organ called the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson’s organ allows a cat to have 14 times the sense of smell of a human.  The Jacobson’s organ which consists of two fluid-filled sacs that connect to the cat’s nasal cavity is located on the roof of their mouth behind their teeth.

The reason they look dazed for a second or two is because they can learn a lot of information about their surroundings through their sense of smell. They mark territory using the scent glands on their cheeks and paws. The glands

Charlie licking his nose after the flehmen reaction 139x300 How Come Cats Leave Their Mouths Open After They Smell Something?

Charlie licking his nose after the flehmen reaction

secrete pheromones, which are chemical substances that stimulate a behavioral response, such as an avoidance or aggressive reaction. Pheromones are also found in saliva, feces, and urine. When cats “spray” it’s another way they are marking territory.

Have you caught your kitty with his or her mouth open?  What were they smelling when you did?  Or did you know what they were smelling?

button print blu20 How Come Cats Leave Their Mouths Open After They Smell Something?

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Category: Health Care, Ragdoll Cat Behavior

About the Author ()

Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,

Comments (19)

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  1. Rebekah C says:

    Ha, this is perfectly timed, I just explained recently to my husband about this phenomenon……our kitties only do it when they smell something gross, but it is so funny to see them doing it! I will try to get a picture next time :)

  2. Alissa says:

    That’s a very common behavior for kitties! They do it anytime they smell something exceptionally interesting and/or new…the opening of the organ allows them to truly “savor” the scent. I think it is adorable! Raina doesn’t do it so much but will on occasion make her “funny face” when I come back after visiting new cats. :)

  3. Melody says:

    My cat used to hiss whenever she got a whiff of another cat’s scent. She was too used to being an only cat.

  4. Gail Vettel says:

    Thank you for that imformation on the cats smelling senses. I was always wondering what exactly was making them do that..They always get this strange look on their face kind of creepy sometimes..Horses do the same kind of thing but curl their top lip and head way up….Critters are so funny sometimes…

  5. Dew Dust says:

    Thank you so much for this explanation. My new kitten was just doing this when I was trying to eat some pineapple. He came up to me being very curious of course and so I showed him a piece. He sniffed it through the nose, but then I saw him suddenly sit up, open the mouth, and yes have that daze of stupor. It was cute, but I was like, “What are you doing?” I literally thought for a moment that he had licked it and it was just too tart or acidic for his little tongue =) Thanks again!

  6. Dew Dust says:

    LOL I honestly don’t think so. Not to mentioned, I used a fork to pick up the pineapple. I will see if I can get him to do it again and take a photo =D

  7. Dew Dust says:

    Okay I have a couple of photos =) And apparently interesting stories.
    My kitten does that thing with his mouth with anything new he is smelling. He was smelling my clean laundry that I placed on my bed to fold and he made that face:

    http://i114.photobucket.com/albums/n271/Dew_Dust/010.jpg

    And he was smelling a banana peel and opened his mouth and went into that weird stare:

    http://i114.photobucket.com/albums/n271/Dew_Dust/015.jpg

    I assure you there was no urine on the clothes that came out from the dryer or on the banana peel =D

  8. Edmira says:

    So interesting! My 1 year old male does this when he smells anything new or interesting as well. And not just when he smells urine. Love the look on his face. :)

  9. Grace Elliot says:

    Very interesting. A lot of other animals and reptiles do this as well, from horses to snakes. It’s also part of why cats and dogs cope much better with blindness than humans – their other senses (including smell) are so much more actue. Apparently scientists did a study and found that blind cats with whiskers, where better at catching mice than sighted cats with no whiskers (I assume they must have been good mousers to start with! )
    Grace x

  10. Maya Ronaldo says:

    Hey, my cat does this when she licks my face (usually the bridge of my nose, my eye lid or cheek). It’s a loving gesture.. but I DEFINITELY don’t have urine on my face!!
    Any thoughts??

  11. I knew the Jacobson organ thing, and thought it was really interesting. Then my friend Demian started calling it “ass face,” and that’s all she wrote. Now the only way I can remember the real name is when I look it up online. For ever more, it will be known in my house as, “Oh, look! Diamond has ass face!” Classy,I know.

  12. Emily says:

    OMG!! Yes! Thank you so much for this. I just brought a new kitten home and my other kitty keeps doing this when she smells her. I was so worried that there was something wrong. Yay!

  13. Brandi Peterson says:

    Thank you so much my cats do the same thing but the only time I have seen them do it is right after thry smell the other ones butt I didnt know what was going on

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