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Why Is My Cat Suddenly Sniffing Everything? 6 Possible Reasons

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Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg DVM

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Every cat owner knows that cats have an extraordinary sense of smell. Cats use this gift to analyze their environment and grasp their surroundings. Cats have 45–80 million (and possibly up to 200 million) olfactory receptors compared to us humans, which only have 5 million. With this fact, it’s no wonder that cats sniff everything. But why do they do this? And why would your cat suddenly start sniffing everything? Ensuring that your cat is not sneezing excessively or has any visible nasal discharge (which could signify a medical problem), sniffing alone does not mean there is necessarily a problem!  Come along with us to discover the six possible reasons why your cat is suddenly sniffing everything and if there’s a cause for concern.

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The 6 Reasons Your Cat Is Suddenly Sniffing Everything

1. Checking Their Territory

Silver Bengal sitting on the couch
Image Credit: Velari Pavljuk, Shutterstock

Simply put, cats sniff to check out everything in their surroundings. Cats are not always territorial, but they do prefer certain spaces and objects to call their own. Cats will especially do this if they’re in a new place, but they will do it in a familiar place, too. Newly adopted cats will certainly sniff everything once you bring them home, in part to determine if there are other animals around.

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2. Determining Where to Scratch

cat scratching_Xandra Luijks_Pixabay
Image Credit: Xandra Luijks, Pixabay

Scratching is a completely normal behavior, and cats do it to sharpen their nails, stretch their muscles, and mark their territory. However, a cat will scope out a possible object to scratch by sniffing to make sure the object is suitable. Sniffing the object will tell your cat what the object is made of, if it’s safe, the texture, and if another cat has claimed the object.

It is possible that an object, such as a particular chair or couch, has always been around, but your cat showed no interest in scratching it in the past; that could explain a sniff you’ve never witnessed beforehand.

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3. Determining Where to Mark

Tuxedo cat in a room
Image Credit: Chen, Unsplash

Your cat may decide on a certain object or toy and decide to claim it. Your cat will claim an object by sniffing it first, then rubbing its face all over the object. Your cat may also do this in a certain area of your home to claim a spot or space.

Cats have scent glands on various areas of their bodies that release pheromones, and rubbing their face on something leaves behind their own unique scent. In releasing these pheromones, they are saying, “Back off, this is mine!”

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4. Picking Up a Message

cat sniffing a dog
Image Credit: nekodg, Pixabay

Smell is a cat’s main form of communication, and if you have another animal in the home, whether it be another cat or dog, your cat may be communicating by sniffing. This form of communication may be telling the other animal that a certain spot or area in the home is theirs.

In the case you have another cat in the home, sniffing could be a form of communication to check if your cat wants to mate with the other cat, if the other cat is ill, and what sex they are.

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5. To See Where You’ve Been

British shorthair cat hiding
Image Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock

A cat will sniff if you bring home a scent it has never smelled before. Perhaps you’ve been to a friend’s house that has a cat, so your cat will sniff everywhere you’ve been in the home that has left the strange scent behind. In short, if you’ve been somewhere else, your cat will sniff all around to determine where you were, what you ate, and so on.

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6. Detecting a Mate

cats in grass
Image Credit: Astrid Gast, Shutterstock

Remember that cats have an extraordinary sense of smell, and a male cat can detect a female from 2 miles away, especially if your male has not been neutered. As far as sniffing new areas in the home, if you were at someone’s house that has a female cat, your male could be picking up the scent and will sniff everywhere you have been. In that case, your male cat could be trying to decipher if the female is a suitable mate.

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Is There a Cause for Alarm?

Sniffing is a natural behavior for cats, and they will sniff any new smells you may bring into the home from being in other places, rendering no cause for alarm.

Why Does My Cat Keep Sniffing the Air?

Cats sniff the air as a way to explore their environment. Cats have a special tool called Jacobson’s organ, or vomeronasal organ, that is located inside the nasal cavity and opens into the mouth. This organ allows smells undetectable to us to reach the brain by way of nerves. For example, suppose a mouse is in the wall but obviously not visible to you. In that case, your cat can smell it using Jacobson’s organ, which ultimately serves as a secondary olfactory system. Your cat may use this tool to sniff out a mate, as well.

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Final Thoughts

Hopefully, we have eased your mind if your cat has suddenly started sniffing everything. Remember that sniffing is a completely natural action for cats, and it is just a way for them to explore their surroundings. Look at it this way: Humans will take a second look at something unfamiliar, but a cat will sniff it.

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Featured Image Credit: movchanzemtsova, Shutterstock

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