Can Cats Smell Their Owners? The Myths and Facts

Can cats smell their owners
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Cats are believed to have an impressive sense of smell. Even though they are born blind, they use their olfactory sense to stay close to their mother and also to locate food. But can cats smell their owners? Can they recognize their human owners from the scent of their bodies?

Yes, they can smell their owners and recognize them from their body scent. They have strong olfactory receptors in their nose that enable them to smell from a distance of 4 miles. This is one of the reasons they can find their way back home from a faraway and sometimes get back home if they ever go missing.  

If you are a cat owner and want to get more details about how your cat can recognize you by your smell and other related information about her olfactory sense, read on.

A Cat’s Olfactory Sense—All You Need to Know

Cats are intelligent creatures. Besides discerning when their owners are sad, cats can smell their owners. It is because cats have millions more olfactory receptors in her nose than humans have. A human nose has only 5 million odor receptors, while a cat has more than 200 million. To put it into perspective, a cat’s olfactory sense is 14 times better than humans.

According to one study, these strong olfactory receptors help a cat detect the smell from miles away. As amazing as it sounds, a cat can get back home by identifying the familiar scent of its owner or home from 1.5 to 4 miles of distance.

When a cat breathes in odor molecules, they reach the nasal canal by getting dissolved in the mucus. These molecules are then taken from the mucus towards the olfactory receptors with the help of cilia. They are then bound to the receptors, and a message is sent to the brain about the object they are smelling.   

How Far Can Cats Smell Their Owners?

As mentioned above, a cat can detect the scent of its owner from a distance of 1.5 to 4 miles. The same goes for the homing instinct cats have that helps them find their way back home. According to PetMD, cats can return home by traveling 50 – 80 miles in 6 months, 30 miles in 10 days, and 20 miles in 21 days. This can prove to be a ray of hope for people whose cats have gone missing.

Another thing that is important to mention here is that a cat distinguishes her owners by the aroma of their skin. They don’t associate you with the perfume you use or the scent of your body lotion. Their nose can pick up the original scent of your body and do not recognize you from the artificial scent of your shampoo or perfume.

Other Uses of Strong Sense of Smell

Can cats smell their owners? Yes, they can. But what else do they achieve with the help of strong olfactory sense? How this can be beneficial to cats and their survival?

Below, we have listed some reasons why a strong sense of smell is crucial to a cat’s survival and well-being.

  • As cats have been living in the wild, having a strong sense of smell is important for them to survive. They can smell food from afar that they would need to feed on.
  • A strong sense of smell also helps in keeping a cat safe in a hostile environment. A new smell in the surrounding may mean a predator is in the close vicinity. A cat can easily detect a new smell from a long distance and find a safe place to hide from the predator.
  • Cats are known to have the homing instinct that can help them find their way back home if they ever go missing. Due to the same strong sense of odor, a cat can get back to her living area.
  • A male cat can detect a female cat in heat from a distance so they can copulate and give birth to offspring. Thus, having strong olfactory receptors is also crucial for the growth of the feline population.  
Can cats smell their owners

Human Marking

It is a known fact that cats do not recognize their owners from their faces. They cannot distinguish the facial features of one human being from another. To recognize their owner, they mark them by rubbing their bodies against their human’s skin. By doing so, they claim you so that other felines can get the message that you are taken by your pet cat. It is their way of keeping other cats away from their human owner.

Got two cats under one roof?

Can cats smell their owners

If you find your cat constantly rubs her head or paws on you or tries to sleep between your legs, she is leaving her scent on your skin so she can recognize you the next time you are around. Scent marking you also means your cat associates you with comfort and safety. She knows this person brings her food, plays with her, and is not a threat. Scent marking and voice recognition are the only two ways your cat can know you are her owner. So it is important for you to talk to your feline fellow and also let her scent mark you.

Final Words

Can cats smell their owners? The answer is, yes, they can. Cats can recognize their owners from their voice and their scent. They have a stronger olfactory sense as compared to humans, and they use this sense to recognize other felines, their predators, and their human family members. It is crucial for their survival in the wild and also helps them to find food. It also helps male felines to detect the smell of a female who is in heat, thus enabling them to mate and reproduce offspring.


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