Tag: Flehmen

Why Is My Cat Sneering at Me? It’s Not Personal, It’s Flehmen

Why is my cat sneering at me?  Have you ever asked yourself this question?  Does your cat sometimes make a funny face that resembles a sneer or a grimace when smelling an object? It’s not personal.

The Flehmen response

If your cat appears to sneer, or grimace, with panting or open-mouth breathing, he may be exhibiting the Flehmen response.  The Flehmen response is a natural way for animals, including cats, horses, camels, and llamas to temporarily improve their sense of smell.

When an animal bares its teeth and curls its upper lip, it opens up two small ducts in the roof of the mouth. These ducts, called nasopalatine ducts, connect with a special olfactory (smell) organ in the nose.  This is called the vomeronasal organ.  This organ has different sensory cells than the ones found in either the nose or taste-buds.  The effect of using the organ is probably something between smelling and tasting.

Invoking the Flehmen response

The Flehmen response is usually associated with social or sexual interactions 1.  In cats, just as in other animals, the Flehmen response is associated with exposure to fluids.  Exposure to secretions from other cats most often initiates a Flehmen . Males use the Flehmen response more frequently than do females.  However, if female cats are left in a room with urine from another cat, they will use the Flehmen response.

So, if your cat is doing the Flehmen, it probably means he is sensing the after-smells of another cat.  If you work around cats during the day, your cat is very likely to give you the Flehmen when you get home.  Think of it as a “How was work? Did you meet any interesting people?” sort of interaction.  It’s definitely not personal.

You may learn more about the Flehmen response in cats and other animals at Slate.com.

Hart, B.L. and Leedy, M.G., Stimulus and hormonal determinants of flehmen behavior in cats, Hormones and Behavior, 1987.
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