How Do Cats Smell Mice? A Cat Nose Knows…

How do cats smell mice?

How Do Cats Smell Mice?

Thinking back to my childhood years, I can remember my grandmother always having at least two cats around. Of course, my cousins and I loved trying to cuddle those kitties. We enjoyed playing with them, dangling a string in front of them and watching as they pawed at the string, trying to catch it.

Grandma always told us that the cats certainly earned their keep by helping to cut down on the mice around her home. With her house being surrounded by fields, the mice were plentiful. I often wondered: How do cats smell mice?


As I got older, I learned more about feline traits. Research along the way has given me a little better understanding of the “cat versus rat” motivation.

Importance of Smell

How does a cat smell mice?

Right after a kitten is born, she uses her smelling sense to find her mother’s milk. After that is accomplished, a kitty’s sense of smell leads her to all kinds of food — in all kinds of locations.

A cat’s sense of smell is much stronger than that of people — 14 times stronger to be exact. This is because cats have nearly 70,000 “smell receptors” tucked away in their nasal area — humans have only 20,000. Their nose allows them to sniff out food, mates and enemies, as well as their own territory, which they have previously marked.

I also discovered through research that a cat can smell the difference between a gallon of plain water and a gallon of water with a little salt in it. (Note that, to humans, salt does not have a smell.)

If you have any doubt that cats use those noses to great effect, check out this absurdly cute video of a kitten smelling dinner:

Jacobson’s Organ

Cats can even “taste” smells, since they have a set of sensory organs at the back of their mouths. If your kitten seems to gulp in air when she is investigating something, no need to worry; that’s just Jacobson’s organ kicking in.

Besides their unique sense of smell, cats also rely on other senses to enhance their mouse-hunting skills. A cat’s eyesight and hearing are a big help with their natural hunting and chasing instincts. All of these senses allow felines to pinpoint the location of mice and other rodents, making them a high-alert, patient, nearly perfect predator of mice.

Get this: A cat’s whiskers can even detect motion created by air movement (such as a tiny mouse scurrying around in total darkness).

Nose Is Just One Part of the Total Package

So, how do cats smell mice? With their noses, silly. But remember that the nose isn’t the only thing involved in “the hunt.” In fact, noses are just a small part. It’s the total package — sense of smell, sense of hearing, sense of taste, very sensitive whiskers and an instinct for “the chase” — that makes your fluffy kitty cat a well-oiled mouse-hunting machine.

If my grandmother were alive today, I would definitely commend her on her cost-effective technique of mouse-proofing her home.

Additional Resources

Photo: Chapendra/Flickr (top); Hans Pama/Flickr

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  • Winthrop

    Wonderful post. Never knew this!