Cats are often portrayed in media as mysterious and difficult to decipher, but if you know what to look for you, can decode your kitty’s thoughts and foster deeper connections.
One of the easier expressions to decode is the infamous “stink face,” also known as the Flehmen response.
If you’ve ever witnessed your cat contort its face into a peculiar expression that looks like a mix of disgust, disdain, and pleasure, fear not—you’re not alone in wondering what is going on inside their furry little heads.
Physiology of the Flehmen response
“Stink face” involves an organ on the roof of a cat’s mouth called Jacobson’s organ.
During the Flehmen response, a cat curls back its lips, opens its mouth, and inhales through the nose while keeping the mouth slightly ajar. This action helps draw in and process pheromones, allowing the cat to gather information about the encountered scent.
Cats evolved this ability to help them better understand their surroundings, communicate with other cats, and assess potential mates and threats.
Sensory Overload: Cats have an exceptionally keen sense of smell. “Stink face” may be a reaction to an overwhelming scent that your cat finds intriguing, puzzling, or even offensive.
Taste Sensations: Certain tastes can trigger the response as well. Cats may exhibit this expression after encountering a new flavor, especially if it’s unusual or unpleasant.
Social Communication: In multi-pet households, “stink face” can be a social cue. Cats may use this expression to convey a message to other animals, signaling discomfort or a desire for personal space.
How to respond as a cat parent
- Observe the Context: Pay attention to the surrounding circumstances. Is there a new scent in the environment, a change in the cat’s routine, or interactions with other pets?
- Respect Personal Space: If your cat is making the face during interactions with other pets, ensure that they have their own space and retreat options. This helps reduce stress and potential conflicts.
- Introduce Changes Gradually: When introducing new scents or flavors, do so gradually. Cats can be sensitive to sudden changes.
- Consult Your Veterinarian: If the “stink face” becomes a persistent behavior or is accompanied by other concerning signs, consult your veterinarian.
We as cat parents can foster a deeper connection with our cats by observing, understanding, and respecting feline expressions like this one. Our goal can be to create and maintain an environment where they feel not only cherished, but also understood.