Can Humans Smell Pheromones?

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cat sitting on grey blanket

If you’ve been shopping for your cat, you may have noticed pheromone sprays and plug-in diffusers alongside the regular pet accessories, treats and toys but what exactly are they?  And can humans smell pheromones?

What are Pheromones?

Pheromones are chemical signals that cats use to communicate both with their environment and other cats.  Even if you don’t know much about pheromones, you’ll have seen your cat using them. One of the most common ways that cats deposit pheromones is through the face by bumping or rubbing their cheeks and foreheads against people and objects.  Whilst cats have a good sense of smell and an often-innate sense of what they don’t like – cinnamon for example pheromones are a two-way communication rather than just a simple scent. 

Why Do Cats Use Pheromones?

Cats use pheromones for several reasons but the most common is to mark territory, to bond with humans and other pets, to signal a sexual partner, as well as to reduce anxiety and increase feelings of comfort and familiarity.

We’ve already mentioned that one way cats deposit pheromones is by bumping or rubbing the head against a surface or person.  This helps the cat feel comfortable and safe in its environment. 

Cats are territorial and this reassures them as much as other cats that the space is theirs. You’ll also see this communicated on cat scratching posts because cats have scent glands in their paws as well. 

Our cat is a big fan of rubbing her head and cheeks along the edges and surfaces of any packages or new pieces of furniture that come into the house.  She’s our only cat so when she walks around our home, she knows her territory and space is safe because she can smell her scent in the places she likes to go. This communication is important and would be something to think about if we ever introduced another cat or pet into the home or if we ever moved somewhere new.

Mom cats also use pheromones to bond with kittens.

Outdoor cats use pheromones to send and receive messages from other cats in the area. This communicates information about the cats in the neighborhood and territory. If you’ve ever had a cat spray inside your house or urinate outside a litterbox, then you’ll understand how powerful that message can be. But remember, it’s not the pheromones you’re smelling when a cat sprays or urinates.

Pheromones are naturally made inside the cat’s scent glands but you can also buy man-made pheromones which mimic this chemical communication and can help reduce aggression and anxiety in cats. There are several brands including Feliway and Comfort Zone. And you can buy both as either a spray to use in cat carriers or on bedding as well as a plug-in diffuser which helps with behavioral issues inside the house or to help reassure cats in their new home. 

Can Humans Smell Pheromones?

No. Humans can’t smell pheromones. We find that really fascinating because whilst our cat has access to all this information about her environment, us and other cats, we aren’t even aware its there (and all over our house!).  

Can Cat Pheromones Affect Humans?

No, cat pheromones don’t affect humans.

The chemical signals that a cat receives from its own scent or from other cats has no smell or color that you can detect. A cats urine spraying smells terrible because it’s highly concentrated and once it begins degrading, turns into ammonia. This smell isn’t the pheromones at work but cats do use urine and spraying as a way of marking territory and communicating that fact to other cats. 

How Long Does Cat Scent Last?

If you’re using synthetic spray like Feliway, the scent lasts for around 4-5 hours.  Plug-in diffusers will continue to spray until the diffuser needs replacing which is about every 30 days.

Scent laid by a cat can linger for several weeks but will become weaker over time.  It may also linger on areas of the home that aren’t cleaned as frequently. 

Bear this in mind if you’re moving into a new house as your cats will be able to smell the previous feline occupants.