Flehmen Response In Cats: What Does it Mean?

November 01, 2018

Flehmen Response In Cats: What Does it Mean?

Ever noticed your cat wrinkle up his nose like she just smelled something rancid?

Your cat may also lift up her head just a little a bit and may even pull back her lips---almost like a cartoonish snarl or grimace.

If you’ve seen this face, then you know what I’m talking about.

If haven’t then, you must be thinking I’m crazy!

People think that their cat has a sense of humor for making a funny face or pulling a stinky face.

But, this look is a real thing.

It’s a biological response with a technical name: it’s called a Flehmen Response or a Flehmen Reaction.

In this blog post, we’ll go through everything you need to know about what the Flehmen Response means in cats.

Let’s get started.

Flehmen Response In Cats

Did you know that Flehmen is a German word that means “lip curl” or “curl the upper lip”?

According toAnthrozoologist John Bradshaw, the flehmen response opens up two small ducts, known as the nasopalatine canals, on the roof of a cat’s mouth behind the incisors.

These ducts go through the roof of the mouth and join up with the vomeronasal organ, which  functions as an auxiliary olfactory bulb.

Scientists believe the flehmen response does something that’s between the sense of smell and taste.

So, you can say that you cat has a sixth sense!

Flehmen, however, isn’t an automatic way to take in smells, like you do via breathing.

When your cat makes that funny face, even if it looks like he is either panting or smelling something bad, it’s really quite the opposite.

When your kitty has a Flehmen Response, she smells something she likes and he wants to further investigate the smell.

The funny facial position allows your cat to taste the good smell so that she can gather more information about it.

Cats have a finely honed sense of smell, but the action is not all located in their noses.

Waldrop says that the most common time he’s seen a cat display the Flehmen response in day-to-day life is when one animal in the house has expressed their anal glands.

Anal gland secretions are rich in pheromones, and the Flehmen response allows them to better investigate who it came from. I have also seen the response in cats investigating where another cat has sprayed urine marking a location or when they smell our dirty laundry that’s left on the floor, specifically socks and underwear.

It’s About Those Pheromones

As we’ve mentioned time and again, cats use pheromones (or scent hormones) to communicate with other cats.

Each kitty has its own unique pheromones, which can signal different messages to other cats. Example, a cat may rub its cheek against an object and release pheromones to mark its territory.

Pheromones in cats' urine signal its gender.

Cats use this second sniff-mechanism to analyze pheromones. Male cats show the flehmen kitty sneer most often.

Jacobson's Organs in Cats

Jacobson's organs link to the hypothalamus in the brain.

This means that it serves as a switchboard to direct information to other areas. Tiny ducts connect them to openings behind kitty's teeth in the roof of the mouth.

Should you be concerned about the flehmen response?

The answer is a definite no.

“As funny as it may look, there is no harm to a cat exhibiting a flehmen response,”

Flehmen Response In Cats: What Does it Mean?

The Flehmen response is basically a combination of smelling and tasting a scent for in-depth investigation. When the cat opens her mouth in a grimace and curls her upper lip, he's providing maximum exposure for the scent to travel through the vomeronasal organ.

This is also called the flehmen position, flehmen reaction, flehming, etc.

In cats, the flehmen response is most commonly used in the detection and inspection of pheromones.

This is where the details get murky.

The link between the flehmen response and pheromones is relatively straightforward. But we're still not sure exactly why cats perform the response around so many different and unexpected things.

Have questions? Leave them in the comments, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.




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