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How Cats Create a Group Scent


Cat vs Cat book by Pam johnson-bennett


The Group Scent in a Cat’s World

Scent in a multiple cat environment involves the comfort of creating a group scent. You’ve probably seen this on a daily basis in your home as you watch companion cats rub against each other. You’re even a part of this as your cats rub against you. This is a way of creating a communal scent in addition to being a sign of affection. The group scent is created through allogrooming, head bunting and body rubbing. These are highly social behaviors that not only create a common scent but also increase the bond between friendly cats. In the case of cats who aren’t so friendly to each other, the group scent-marking keeps things peaceful.

Threats to the Feline Group Scent

If you’ve ever brought one cat to the veterinary clinic while the other cats remained home, you might’ve  witnessed hostility on the part of those cats when the feline patient returned home. The cat who returns from the vet clinic now smells very threatening. Rather than simply recognizing each other by sight, the scent-oriented cats react to the perceived threat by displaying aggression and fear toward the returning cat. It isn’t until that cat has time to self-groom and take on the familiar scents of the home again that her feline companions begin to relax.

The act of creating and maintaining this group scent provides comfort but is also an aid in survival in an outside cat colony.

Objects in the Cat’s Environment

Your cat doesn’t just scent-mark other companion cats and human family members, she also marks objects in her environment. This is demonstrated by the familiar cheek-rubbing you see your cat do on objects such as chair legs, doors and anything else she can reach.

For many cats, the addition of something foreign in the environment such as a new chair, new carpeting or new bed can create a revved-up need to adequately mark the unfamiliar-smelling object. For many cats the marking is limited to facial rubbing but if the cat feels threatened or overwhelmed by the strange addition to her territory, she may even resort to spraying.


three books by pam johnson-bennett on a bookshelf

To make life easier for your cat, especially if you know she has issues with unfamiliar scents in her territory, you can pre-scent objects when first bringing them into the home. Put a sock on your hand and gently rub your cat around the mouth to collect some facial pheromones (scent chemicals) and then rub the sock on the new object. If you have more than one cat, use a clean sock for each cat. Don’t rub one cat with the same sock you used for another cat. If the object is really large, such as a sofa, rub the corners with the scent-baited socks, and then cover the sofa with a sheet or towel that has been used by you. Leave the sheet in place for a few days. This will allow some of the familiar home scents to get onto the sofa.

Other Kinds of  Cats Scent

The good thing about scent-marking by facial rubbing, grooming and flank rubbing is that the scent is undetectable by humans. Cats can pick up every nuance of scents left by each cat but thankfully, our noses are none the wiser. Now, when cats scent-mark using urine – that’s another story altogether. That’s a scent easily detectable by us. When a cat starts urine-marking as opposed to facial rubbing, things in the environment aren’t calm and peaceful. Urine-marking is a high-intensity form of marking. It indicates that the cat may feel threatened or needs to self-soothe by creating a very obvious familiar scent. You may notice an indoor cat spraying near a window if she sees an unfamiliar cat outside.   A cat may also spray when a new pet is brought into the home. There are many reasons why a cat may spray so it’s important to figure out the underlying cause so you can address the situation and create security again.

Cats Have Some Special Equipment

Cats have a special organ located in the roof of the mouth. This organ, known as the Jacobson’s Organ or Vomeronasal organ, contains ducts that lead to the mouth and to the nose. This special equipment essentially functions as an analyzer. It’s used primarily for analyzing pheromones (scent chemicals) from other cats, especially the ones found in urine.


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