This secret language shines a light on the annoying habits of cats

Hangai Lilla

2024. April 7 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

The word 'pheromone' may sound abstract to many people, making cats more difficult to understand. To put it in simple, everyday terms, they are chemical messages that help our moustachioed friends connect with the world around them. Their scent is only smelled by conspecifics through their vomeronasal organ, and the small "dispatches" are released from their special glands by various techniques.


In this article, we expand on the role of pheromones in the world of cats. Secrets every pet owner should know!

When cats rub up againts objects: the role of the facial pheromone

Cat’s face is the centre of pheromone messaging. The secretions of these glands contain about 40 different chemical compounds, the understanding of which cats know like the back of their paws. The glands are located under the skin, at the temples, on the chin, on the cheeks, at the corners of the mouth and at the back of the ears. When cats rub their cute little cheeks against something, they do so in order to release pheromones F1 to F5, i.e. to mark it with their own scent. It tells them that it’s a familiar, safe thing, it’s a happy message. (This is also the principle behind pheromone sprays and vaporizers.)

So it’s not so odd, that when you get home from work your pet will immediately cuddle up to you; but they won’t miss out on guests arriving or a new cushion, sofa, bed – literally any new item in the household either.

Cats use the pheromones to mark safe, nice things

When cats scratch: the role of paw pheromones

Scratching is certainly the most annoying cat habit, but it’s important to realise that there’s a good reason for this, it’s not just to annoy you or to express displeasure with your new dining table. Cats have pheromone-secreting glands between the toes of all four paws, which are activated during scratching and kneading. They use it to mark their territory, which also has a stress-relieving effect.

So scratching is useful and necessary! The easiest way to help both yourself and your cat is to buy a sturdy, larger scratching post or some cat furniture or accessories that your cat can scratch on. It must be stable and large enough for the cat to stretch out on. Otherwise, they are unlikely to use it. It is recommended that you place these items or rather furniture – easier to think of them as such from now on – in a place where the cat often scratches. To make the surface even more attractive, it’s worth spraying it with a pheromone spray, which tells them that it’s a safe object.

When cats breastfeed: the role of pheromones around the breasts

Pheromones play a central role in the bonding between the mother and her kittens. Females also have glands around their nipples. These are triggered when kittens suckle and massage the area with their paws. This helps the babies feel safe and calm but also promotes harmony between littermates and helps the mother identify her kittens.

When cats move their tails: the role of pheromones in the glands at the base of the tail

There is another pheromone gland at the base of the cat’s tail, on top, which is perhaps less talked about. The oil produced by the gland is the cat’s own personalised perfume. It is also used to condition their fur and skin, in addition to attracting the opposite sex and repelling parasites.  It is usually in adult male cats that this oil can be overproduced, resulting in a greasy, clumpy coat around the area. ( Generally, it is referred to as stud tail.)

When cats defecate: the role of pheromones in the anal glands

The anal glands of our pets are located under the skin on either side of the anus and contain a foul-smelling, dark-coloured fluid that is usually discharged when the cat poops. However, there can also be spontaneous discharges in stressful situations, which is similar to skunks spraying threats when they feel threatened. This pheromone also has to do with territory marking.

The anal glands are less of a problem in cats, than in dog but they may also be clogged and unable to empty and become inflamed as a result. The problem should not be taken lightly, and should be looked at by your veterinarian. 

When male cats „tag” surfaces: the role of pheromones in urine

Cat urine, especially male cats urine, contains a pheromone called MMB which gives the liquid its unmistakable bouquet. Cats use this to mark territory, communicate sexual maturity and express stress, so marking is also a natural behaviour. In fact, these pheromone markers can help cats avoid conflicts by letting them know if it’s a good idea to be in the area.

If you neuter your cat, they are much less likely to mark. So if this is a problem at home, it’s worth considering – and not just because of convinience! If the cat usually pees in the same place regularly, put a litter tray there. It may not be the jewel of your home, but it’s still better than cleaning cat piss. You can also use a pheromone spray in this case.

Click here to find out more about the Flehmen reaction. This is when and how cats use their vomeronasal organ, as mentioned in the introduction.

cat pheromone marking pheromone pheromone glands problem with scratching

Related articles

More articles

Do you like dogs too?
Visit our Love my dogz page too!