I used to hate it when Rags, the Ragdoll cat I had as a child, would leave his mouth open after smelling anything, especially if it was pee or another cat’s butt. But when I saw what he was doing, I thought it was really cool.
You understand what I mean when I say that someone gently opens their mouth before closing it again after licking their nose and appearing to nod off for a moment? Last week, I went to a neighbor’s house across the street to get their recycling container that had been left out on the curb for a few days. I put the bin behind their house, assuming they were gone, and went back to mine. Charlie gave me the cat stinky face when I got home and wouldn’t quit smelling me.
When I went to see my parents, where Caymus wouldn’t leave me alone as well, I was able to see why. Such an indication of interest from Caymus is unusual, so I felt I had the upper hand. I found out a male cat had sprayed the recycle bin, and now my clothes smell deliciously of cat urine. So as soon as I arrived home, I took off my clothes and had Trigg and Charlie thoroughly sniff them before I took a photo for this post! It is a part of the accessory olfactory system and is located on the anterior inferior third of the nasal septum.
The Cat’s Flehmen Reaction
Cats hold their mouths wide after smelling something because of the Jacobson’s organ, also known as the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson’s organ, which gives cats a sense of smell 14 times higher than that of a person. The Jacobson’s organ is drawn air by enlarging the mouth area, which is referred to as the “flehmen reactionion.”
Why do cats expand their jaws when they scent, then?
In essence, the cat is pulling air into her Jacobson’s organ while opening her lips to take a deep smell of the scent.
The vomeronasal organ, sometimes referred to as Jacobson’s organ, is a special sensory organ that gives cats an enhanced sense of smell that is 14 times larger than that of humans. Behind the teeth on the roof of the mouth is the Jacobson’s organ, which consists of two sacs filled with liquid and attached to the cat’s nasal cavity.
Because they are able to learn a lot about their surroundings through smell, they briefly appear perplexed. They mark their territory with the scent glands on their paws and cheeks. The glands secrete pheromones, which are chemical substances that cause behavioral reactions like aggression or avoidance. Pheromones can also be found in saliva, feces, and urine. Cats use several forms of “spraying” to mark their territory.
Details of the Flehmen Response
Although it is well recognized that cats have a much keener sense of smell than people do, it is less well known how they do it. Not to mention the fact that their sensory organs have advanced beyond those of humans. One of these sensory organs is the Jacobson’s organ, sometimes referred to as the vomeronasal organ, and it provides people with incredibly detailed information about a specific smell.
They must keep their mouths open and breathe through them in order to use this organ since its apertures are located on the roof of their mouths, directly below their incisors.
They must inhale the smell with saliva coating the roof of their mouth. Equally important, they must only breathe in via their lips. In fact, this is a contributing factor to their odd facial expression.
They elevate their top lip to let as much of the odor as possible enter their mouths. Scientists have described the sensory data that travels via the vomeronasal organ as falling between taste and smell. This should give you an idea of the complexity of the information this organ offers. When cats use their vomeronasal organ, they are not only frequently disgusted, but they are also striving to learn more about a specific odor.
What does the response of the flehmen mean?
Pheromone recognition, which is essential for cats, and the flehmen reaction are closely related. It is essential for interspecies communication as a result. Animals can use the olfactory-chemosensory vomeronasal organ to gather chemical information from their peers. The pee on the jeans piqued Caymus and Charlie’s curiosity for just this reason. They were consuming the pheromones found in the male cat’s urine.
Males’ flehmen response is noticeably stronger than that of females, therefore they must be highly sensitive to both the pheromones of females in heat and those of other males. The way that animals mate is significantly impacted by this. This explains why cats typically use their flehmen response to detect odors coming from other cats and to determine whether another cat’s butt smells. In houses with lots of cats, they are more frequently seen exhibiting the grimace.
Additionally, keep in mind that you bring clean scents from the outside into the house every day. Your cat doesn’t need to go outside to scent the other cats because you are bringing them inside. Cats will also use their vomeronasal organs to evaluate strong odors. For instance, they might have their lips open as they inspect your soiled laundry, which is strongly scented with your scent.
The vomeronasal organ is located exactly where?
Cats have a vomeronasal organ in the roof of their mouths. Its connections to the mouth and nose are made via ducts called the nasopalatine canals. Right behind its incisors, on the roof of the cat’s mouth, are two holes. These are the nasopalatine canals’ openings, which are filled with fluids. A smell cannot passively ascend from the mouth to the nose as a result.
Before an odor is driven up into the canals and in contact with the sensory cells of the organ, it must first be absorbed by saliva. The rapid mouth breathing begins at this point. The nasopalatine ducts’ apertures are increased when the top lip is pulled forward, and this results in the saliva-smeared stench moving up the ducts.
Why is flehmen scowling?
This name refers to the humorous expression that cats create when they use their vomeronasal organ. The flehman’s grimace is when a flehman pulls back their upper lip, exposes their teeth, and breaths into their mouths while keeping their gaze fixed in one area. The word “grimace” is used to precisely imply the excessive characteristics they display at that time.
What other reasons are there for cats to keep their mouths open?
More than we humans can ever know, cats acquire a lot of olfactory information during the flehmen reaction, which happens very quickly. In a matter of seconds, cats complete the process, and they then immediately recuperate. The flehmen’s grimace disappears as they cover their mouths.
If you notice that your cat maintains its jaws open for longer than a minute or two, the cause is not a flehmen reaction. In fact, you should look into the situation further if your cat’s jaws remain open for a lengthy period of time. Here are some things to consider:
Has the cat recently been active? Sometimes after a hard workout, cats will hold their jaws open to take in more air. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, which isn’t much longer than the flehmen response. There will also be noticeable labored breathing from your cat, but it will stop after a short while. If it takes longer than that, or if your cat hasn’t been acting normally or playing, you should call the vet since it might be having respiratory problems, which is a medical emergency. That is the worst-case scenario.
Cats might not seal their lips because they find it uncomfortable to do so or because they are incapable of doing so. Cons who have oral lesions or other oral health issues go through this.
For instance, having their mouths open could be more comfortable if they are suffering from severe gingivitis discomfort. This often happens when cats have a lot of tartar, which leads to an infection of the gums. When the infection extends past the gums, stomatitis develops.
Tartar buildup over time is the root cause of periodontal disease. This eventually causes harm to the ligament holding the teeth in place, which results in tooth loss. Cats keep their jaws open to avoid putting pressure on the uncomfortable spot and making it worse. Cats can experience pain from this or other dental issues, such as shattered teeth.
They may be holding their mouths wide due to other diseases such lesions on the tongue, the roof of the mouth, and/or the inside of the cheeks, which can range from scrapes and scratches to benign or malignant tumors. Another reason cats might keep their jaws open is a fractured mandible. In this case, they wouldn’t be able to shut their lips.
In order to check for issues like gingivitis, scratches, cuts, or other issues, try to open your cat’s mouth if you can if it has been keeping it open for a while. When you take your cat to the vet, the doctor will extensively inspect the oral cavity to determine what is causing it to open its mouth.
How do cats react when they smell something unpleasant?
Let me begin by mentioning that your cat may find the fragrance of what we humans would deem to be “something nasty” to be quite enticing. For example, we may be reluctant to eat raw fish, but cats will surely be curious. It’s possible for cats to dislike something that smells wonderful to us and vice versa.
As a result, when cats smell something unpleasant, they frequently shrug and wrinkle their noses before attempting to leave the area as soon as possible. If you want to observe it in action, give your cat a piece of lemon to sniff. She will soon leave this place.
Cats shrug and make an effort to get away from the source of unpleasant odors, not necessarily the lemon, in this way, just like us people do. However, their reaction is stronger because they have a far better sense of smell than we have.
Flehmen’s FAQ: Response
Existence of the vomeronasal organ in humans
Yes, humans too have the vomeronasal organ.
This knowledge was acquired from the amazing website Pet Tails, which provides additional explanation. It has specialized olfactory cells that serve as afferent neurons (which take the information from the nose to the brain). There may still be a ton of research to be done in this field even though the detection of pheromones has been related to its function. Another function of the Jacobson’s organ is related to the synthesis of the gonadotropin-releasing hormone.
Do people react the same way as men?
Humans have the vomeronasal organ, although little is known about how it functions. In actuality, there is a lot of debate among scientists on this. Humans lack the auxiliary olfactory bulbs that would enable them to receive information from the vomeronasal receptor cells, despite the fact that the organ is present. This shows that humans lack the sensory function of the Jacobson’s organ.
Do all animals, or only cats, display the flehmen response?
No, many other species of animals engage in this behavior. Actually, all mammals have this characteristic. If you thought cats with their mouths open, eyes popped and fixated, or even rhinos appear cute and comical, wait until you see other animals like horses, donkeys, tigers, or even rhinos. However, cats have some of the most sophisticated vomeronasal organs. You should be aware that, in contrast to cats, which are famed for having a powerful sense of smell, hound dogs only have 9 different types of receptors in their Jacobson’s organ.
Definition of Flehmen’s Reaction
Does your cat’s gaping lips make it appear as though it is repulsed by you?
Cat owners frequently think that cats smell disgusting, which is a genuine thing with a name, and thus make people shudder. There are numerous jokes about how cats make the astonished look and open their jaws when they sniff their owner’s feet or shoes. You can see that’s obviously not the case. This shows that cats use their Jacobson’s organ to describe smells in remarkable detail.
They are essentially searching for pheromones. If anything, it should be taken as a compliment. The next time you see your cat with its jaws open and incisors visible, know that it is smelling something very important. Have you ever caught a glimpse of your cat’s wide mouth? What were they smelling when you were? Or perhaps you were previously aware of their smell. Comment here with any experiences you have had with flehmen.
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