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Can a Cat Smell Human Hormones? What Science Tells Us

According to feline experts, a cat’s sense of smell is about 16 times better 1 than that found in humans. This can be attributed to the fact that cats are endowed with over 200 million senses of odor in their nose, allowing them to detect a wide range of human scents and hormones, which are usually released in our sweat and carried through the air.

Their keen sense of smell helps them detect their prey and predators. They can also detect pheromones emitted by individuals, largely believed to be part of social interactions and communication. This way, they can determine information about our current moods and temperament.

Read on to learn more about the different types of human hormones that cats can detect and how they react to them.

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What Types of Human Hormones Can Cats Smell?

Below are some common human hormones that cats might be able to smell.

1. Pregnancy Hormones

Since cats are highly intuitive creatures, some experts believe that a cat can smell pregnancy, detecting it even before the mother 2. Indeed, cats can detect hormonal changes in pregnant women’s bodies through their sense of smell, although they can’t exactly point it to pregnancy because they don’t understand the concept of pregnancy.

When a woman is pregnant, she produces higher levels of human chorionic gonadotropin hormones, progesterone, and estrogen. These hormones can have changes in a woman’s natural scent.

They can also affect certain behaviors, body language, and emotions. Usually, cats can almost immediately detect the shifting in a woman’s body, especially if they have a close bond with the woman or live together.

Even though these changes may be negligible at the beginning of the pregnancy, your cat will notice the difference.

pregnant woman sitting with cat
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock
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2. Pheromones

Pheromones are essentially natural chemicals secreted by our bodies. While they may not have a smell, they function as hormones helping provoke a social response from animals belonging to the same species.

Cats can sniff out the pheromones produced by your body and always know what to do with the information gathered by their olfactory senses.

Granted, human pheromones may not have any effect on some felines, but intelligent cats usually use these signals to determine what a person might be feeling, whether sad, happy, or fearful. They can use them to sense adrenaline and fear in humans. This allows them to tread carefully around their irked-out owners or even ask for attention.

Some cats are even fond of sniffing out a human’s crotch area. Even though it’s not common in all cats, they do this to get a whiff of the apocrine glands, usually located in the armpits and the crotch area. The apocrine glands release information about the sex, gender, and mood of human beings.

So, if your cat sniffs your crotch region, it is not being disrespectful; it is simply trying to gather information from the pheromones released to find out more about you.

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3. Menstrual Cycle Hormones

Even though it may sound far-fetched, it is believed that cats can detect whether a woman is on her period by sniffing for hormone and odor levels.

When a woman is on her period, her body produces some hormones, such as the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which changes a woman’s scent. Cats can detect the change in scent using their sense of smell.

This is perhaps why you will find a cat sniffing on a woman’s crotch area while on her period. However, even though they can smell some of the hormones produced during the menstrual cycle, they cannot tell that a woman is on her period because they do not understand the concept.

Woman holding a cat
Image Credit: VAKS-Stock Agency, Shutterstock
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4. Testosterone

Generally, men have about eight times more testosterone than women have in their bodies. Granted, several studies seem to indicate that cats can smell women’s hormones, but no evidence suggests that they can smell male testosterone.

So, cats cannot use testosterone to differentiate between men and women. Sure, they may be able to recognize certain hormones that belong to a specific gender, but they can’t use their sense of smell to tell whether the human is a male or female. To cats, we are all the same.

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How Do Cats React to Human Hormones?

Now that you know that cats can smell various human hormones, do they react to them? Indeed, they do. Once they notice that their human companion is under a great deal of stress, they can adjust their behavior according to the situation.

Some overly intelligent cats have even learned how to detect hormonal changes associated with a particular emotion. Here is how they react to different emotional states:

When You Are Scared

As mentioned earlier, cats can detect when the owner is scared and afraid because of the adrenaline released by their body. This hormone helps initiate the “flight” or “fight” response.

So, if you are interacting with your furry companion while afraid, the cat will not only detect the fear but respond to changes in heart rate and demeanor.

Even though every cat has unique temperaments, most cats will probably get panicked and scramble to stay away from you. Some can even get very agitated.

cat sitting on owners lap
Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock
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When Sad

Our society is replete with stories of how a cat comforted the owner when they were crying, feeling sad, and low. Usually, most people who give these anecdotal stories claim that their cat comforted them because they love them.

However, the most plausible explanation is that the cats detected the hormones released from the tear ducts. Moreover, when a body is stressed out, it tends to release hormones that prompt cats to investigate.

Since cats are usually kept as companions, they will likely bump their heads into your body in a show of affection. However, once your tears dry up, do not be disappointed if they go on about their business.

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When Happy and Content

When we are in love or happy, our bodies tend to produce endorphins which cats can smell too. When a cat senses that you are in a contented mood, it will sit on your lap and enjoy the positive vibes emanating from you.

Also, if you speak to your cat in pleasant and calm tones, your cat will likely come closer to you to show some love.

cat playing with woman owner
Image Credit: Oleg Ivanov, Unsplash

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Tips to Ensure Your Cat Stays Healthy and Safe

Seeing as your cat can smell human hormones and detect human mood and behavior, you have a duty to reassure your cat and keep it safe.

Whenever you take it to the vet or a new environment, remember to carry a blanket that your cat regularly uses to give them a reassuring and familiar scent.

Your cat can get overly anxious from the hormones it smells around many people. You can use synthetic versions of some of the pheromones that your cat produces to help it feel more relaxed in different situations.

When introducing your cat to a new household member, try scent swapping to acclimate your cat to their smell before their arrival.

If your cat is timid around other cats, you can place its litter around the yard to mark its territory. The smell from the litter will deter other cats from bothering your feline friend.

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Cats can smell and detect hormonal changes in your body through their very developed sense of smell, which is far superior to that of human beings. They can smell the hormones produced during pregnancy, such as progesterone, estrogen, and HCG, although they cannot exactly tell that it’s a pregnancy.

They can also detect endorphins produced by your body when happy or the adrenaline produced when you are scared. Afterward, they can choose to stay close and comfort you or scurry away and hide until your mood improves.

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Featured Image Credit: masik0553, Shutterstock