Sarah Hartwell, 2018

One of my correspondents once asked me “Many years ago I had a Bengal cat that had sweet smelling fur, almost like it was perfumed. I think this must have been a dominant trait, because all of her kittens smelled sweet also. I still have one of the kittens, now 20 years old, and she still has a faint flowery smell. Do you have any info about this?”

I was stumped. My cats often came home from forays smelling of flowers, the neighbour’s dog or someone’s cooking, and they picked up the scents of washed laundry, but I never thought that they might have a slight perfumed smell of their own. Another element at play is that some people can smell things that others cannot. Some can even smell when a female cat is in oestrus when there are no other signs.

One breeder reported this in her Norwegian Forest Cat stud (unneutered) male and he passed it on to his offspring. It was like a sweet washing powder. Another owner mentioned that her neutered male semi-longhair domestic tabby smelled of roses. This was not due to picking up environmental scents, but was his own body odour. It seems the scent glands of some cats produce a pheromone that is particularly sweet-smelling in some individuals.

A short-haired, blue point Ragdoll-mix male was described as smelling spicy, a bit like a mix of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves. Interestingly, those who can smell the human version of the male pheromone androstenol (which includes myself) compare its odour to sandalwood. Many descriptions compare the smell of these naturally sweet-smelling cats to baby-powder or washing-powder, especially on the face and behind the ears. One owner said she could smell these things but her husband couldn’t, supporting the view that it depends on a person’s sense of smell as well as the cat’s secretions.

I often thought that one or other of my cats had visited a neighbour and picked up her perfume or that of fabric conditioner, but now I wonder if the light floral scent was its own scent.

Others have ruled out a link between diet and environment because their “perfumed coated” cat (a random-bred rescue cat) ate the same food as other cats in the household. There was a suggestion that fur length played a role as no-one reported Persians with sweet-smelling fur from their own body oils. Both male and female cats, neutered and unneutered were mentioned as having naturally perfumed coats.

“Popcorn feet” (or “[digestive] biscuit feet” in the UK) is a common enough phenomenon that it has a colloquial name. Some cats have a popcorn/biscuit smell between their toes and again, this seems to be inherited. This is particularly remarked upon in kittens, perhaps because they haven’t yet started secreting pheromones. Plenty of my cats had paw pads that smelled of digestive biscuits.

The second part of the query was whether anyone was breeding sweet-smelling cats. The answer is “no” because breeders breed for appearance that is judged against a breed standard. Unlike certain flowers, scent is not a consideration when cats compete at cat shows.


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