When deciding between a cat or a dog as a pet, cats are often chosen because they require less time and effort. They’re ideal for busy owners who don’t have time in the day to take their dog for a walk, and they’re much more independent creatures.
However, cats also have one other major benefit: they smell good all the time. Dogs, on the other hand, are notoriously smelly. So, why do cats smell better than dogs? Some owners will argue that not all dogs smell, but actually there are several reasons why felines are better smelling than their canine counterparts.
The main reason is that cats love self-grooming. Spending upwards of 5 hours each day licking their fur, cats are self-cleaning machines! Besides this, dogs also produce a lot more natural oils than cats which give off that unmistakable “dog” odor, as well as having a habit of anything they can get their paws on – from trash to feces.
In this article, I will run through all the reasons and the science behind why cats smell better than dogs. If you’re torn between which pet to get, this article might just convince you that cats are best!
Why Do Cats Smell Good?
First things first, I’m going to explain why it is that cats don’t smell bad, which predominantly comes down to their love of self-grooming. It is no secret that cats are extremely clean creatures. This means no matter what your cat has rolled round in outside, they can remove the dirt and bad odors easily. Besides, cats don’t have a strong natural smell either and their natural body odors are very mild. This also contributes to them forever smelling fresh.
Let’s take a closer look at these two things.
1. Cats Love Self-Grooming
The main reason that cats smell better than dogs is that cats are notoriously clean creatures and wash away any smells and dirt each day by grooming themselves religiously.
Cats are designed to successfully self-groom. They have a tongue that is covered in tiny spines which give it a texture similar to sandpaper, and they are extremely flexible, allowing them to clean pretty much everywhere on their bodies. Even their front paws are designed with cleaning in mind to reach the places they can’t get to with their tongue alone.
Throughout an average day, cats will spend five hours self-grooming and cleaning themselves. Therefore it should come as no surprise that cats don’t smell bad as they remove all dirt and odors through this persistent washing.
Does Self-Grooming Really Make Cats Clean?
You may be wondering if your cat licking itself from its ears down to the tip of its tail actually makes it clean. After all, I certainly wouldn’t feel clean if I licked myself all over, and we brush our teeth twice each day! However, according to experts, licking does make your cat clean, which is all thanks to their specialized tongues and saliva.
Their tongues have tiny hook-shaped projections called papillae which make it easy to grab onto dirt and remove it from their coat. These also help to spread the cat’s saliva into the deeper layers of their coats and onto their skin, rather than just cleaning the outer surface layer. For any stubborn pieces of dirt, their teeth are there to give an extra helping hand.
Their saliva also contains a natural detergent, which is why no shampoo or soap is required to shift the dirt, germs, and smells from their coat. This helps to lift any dirt more easily from their fur and skin, which leaves them clean and fresh!
Why Do Cats Self-Groom?
There are many reasons that cats love self-grooming. Of course, the main one is so that they can stay clean and keep their coat in good nick, but there are also several other reasons for this behavior.
To Regulate Their Body Temperature: When a cat licks its coat, it transfers saliva onto it which makes its skin and fur damp. This saliva will then be evaporated into the air which gives a cooling effect on this skin. To better understand, this is comparable to how we feel cooler when sweat evaporates from our bodies, which is why we sweat more on hot days or during exercise – to help cool our rising body temperature back down.
However, cats don’t have sweat glands all over the bodies as we do. Instead, they are limited to specific areas including their paw pads, nose, and ears. Therefore, they cannot rely on sweat to provide this cooling effect and have to cover themselves in saliva instead.
To Reduce Infection & Promote Healing: From time to time, your cat may hurt themselves while playing and end up with small cuts on their skin. By licking their fur and removing dirt and pathogens, cats reduce the chance of them contracting an infection through these open wounds while also helping them heal more quickly. This is down to their saliva containing special enzymes which protect against infection, and so it acts as a natural antibiotic.
For Comfort: Your cat may also be self-grooming as a way to relax and bring feelings of contentment. This starts from birth when mothers lick their kittens to clean them and to help stimulate urination. This behavior also provides comfort and shows love, helping the kitten to form a bond with their mother.
As cats are used to being groomed the second they are born, it only follows that they start self-grooming as soon as possible. This behavior then carries on through adulthood, and could also explain why your cat occasionally licks you.
To Avoid Predators: Although cats are predators of small prey such as birds and mice, they are not the largest of animals and there are much bigger predators out there – such as dogs. Therefore, another benefit of cats self-grooming is that they remove any odors that their predators could sense and become more stealthy.
While this is less important for domestic cats, especially indoor cats, self-grooming behaviors would have been passed down by the process of natural selection through years of evolution. The cats that were better at self-grooming would have survived longer, reproduced, and passed these need-to-be-clean genes on to their offspring. This has trickled down into the pet cats we have today.
2. Cats Don’t Have Strong Body Odors
The second reason why cats smell better than dogs is that their natural smell is not as potent and they only have very mild body odors. Our body odor is primarily caused by sweat. Although sweat itself doesn’t smell, bacteria in the skin break down the sweat, which is what produces a nasty smell.
Cats have fewer sweat glands than us and other animals, which are concentrated at their paws, alongside a few on their lips, nose, and around their anus. Basically, cats only have sweat glands on hairless areas, but none below their fur. Therefore, they perspire a lot less than other animals and have a much milder body odor because of it.
That being said, cats do produce sebum all over their bodies which is an important oily secretion that helps to keep their skin moisturized and coats smooth. This too can have a nasty smell when bacteria start to break it down, but thanks to a cat’s self-grooming it is rarely around long enough to start to stink.
Why Do Dogs Stink?
Okay, so we have covered why it is that cats don’t smell, but why is it that many dogs stink so badly?
It is partially due to the lack of self-grooming which cats exhibit. However, dogs are also more smelly due to their diet and behavior, as well as the natural body odors they produce having a much more potent and unpleasant smell. Here is more information on each of these things.
1. Dogs Don’t Self-Groom
Dogs are not self-groomers like cats are, which is the main reason they smell bad. If your dog gets itself into something sticky, rolls around in something in the park that it shouldn’t, or gets an excess of sweat and oil on its fur, those things will stay there and linger until either they fade over time or your wash the dirt and odor off yourself.
This is not just your dog being lazy. Dogs are not designed to self-groom, which we can tell immediately just by looking at their tongues. The tongue of a dog is soft and smooth, compared to a cat’s rough tongue that can effectively remove dirt. Dogs are also not as flexible, and their saliva doesn’t have a natural detergent as a cat’s saliva does.
Why Don’t Dogs Self-Groom?
You may be wondering why dogs don’t self-groom. We have already established the many benefits that self-grooming has for cats – keeping them cool on hot days, protecting themselves against infection, as a form of comfort, and to hide from predators – so why aren’t dogs designed to participate in grooming? Wouldn’t they benefit from this too?
However, unlike cats, dogs benefit from NOT self-grooming and combat the above issues differently.
Dogs Communicate Through Scent: Although scent does play its part in cat communication, dogs are much more social creatures and so their need to communicate through scent is much more apparent; they are natural pack animals, whereas cats are more solitary.
To help dogs communicate, every dog has a unique scent that only other dogs can pick up. This is why you will see dogs sniffing each others’ butts as a way of greeting one another in the park. Not only is this is a dog’s version of a handshake, but it also gives them vital information about the other canine, such as whether it is male or female, how old it is, whether it is healthy, and what type of mood they’re in.
It’s crazy that dogs can get all of that through scent, but that’s how powerful their sense of smell is! If your dog was to self-groom for hours of the day, it would be removing this scent from its fur and limiting how well it can communicate with its fellow dog friends.
Dogs Are Pack Animals : Unlike cats who have are solitary hunters, dogs are pack animals. This means that when they are hunting, their individual scent isn’t important; their safety doesn’t come from masking their scent, it comes from safety in numbers.
Besides, dogs sit pretty high up the food chain as it is. There are only a few animals larger than them that would see them as prey, so even if they were on their own, they would face much fewer dangers than a cat would. For this reason, self-grooming isn’t necessary for a dog’s survival as its smell isn’t a limitation in the wild.
Dogs Pant to Cool Down: Cats rely on spreading their saliva across their body to help them regulate their body temperature and cool down on hot days. However, dogs can effectively cool down via another method: panting.
When dogs pant they circulate cool air through their bodies, while simultaneously the evaporation of water from their mouth and throat creates a cooling effect. This is comparable to how the saliva being evaporated from a cat’s skin cools them down. As dogs can pant, they don’t rely on self-grooming to cool themselves down, and so they simply don’t do it.
2. Dogs Have Strong Natural Body Odors
In general, dogs also have a much stronger natural body odor than cats do. Compared to cats whose only real natural body odor is the small amount of sebum they produce, dogs have multiple sources of body odors which all spell more pungent.
Just as cats don’t have sweat glands all over their bodies, neither do dogs. Instead, these glands are located on their paw pads and their noses, which means sweat isn’t a major contribution to a dog’s bad smell. However, they do perspire slightly from their hair follicles which gives of the individual scent which is unique to each dog.
On top of this, dogs also produce oils to help keep their skin and fur healthy, which again has a strong scent marker. These oils may serve a similar function to the sebum produced by cats, but the composition is completely different. It just so happens that humans are more aware and disgusted by the smell of dog sebum compared to cat sebum.
Additionally, dogs have two other places that nasty odors come from: their ears and their butts. In both of these areas, you will find sets of glands. The glands in dogs’ ears produce a yeasty scent, whereas the glands surrounding their anus give off a musty smell.
3. Dogs Eat Everything
Finally, the last reason that dogs smell so bad is that they eat pretty much anything they can get their paws on to, from dog food to human food, and from trash to feces! On the other hand, cats are notoriously finicky creatures and only consume specific things. Because dogs eat literally anything they want, it can create a while concoction of smells coming from their mouth and their butt.
What Causes a Cat to Smell Bad
Although cats typically smell better than dogs, there are certain situations where your cat might become smelly. So yes, cats can smell bad.
This could be down to a lack of self-grooming because of obesity, arthritis, dental issues, or other illnesses. It is also possible they are suffering from seborrhea which is where there is an overproduction of sebum from their hair follicles, causing them to smell. Other skin conditions or even flatulence could make your cat start to stink.
In these situations, your first point of call should be to contact your vet to get the issue diagnosed and cured with appropriate treatment. However, may also need to clean your cat to help them stop smelling.
Here are some of the options:
- Brushing: One way to clean your cat is through regular brushing. This can help to spread the natural oils throughout its coat, as well as removing any dirt and hair that is shedding.
- Wiping: If your notice your cat’s bad smell is coming from one specific area, such as their rear end, using wipes to clean that specific spot is a great idea. However, using baby wipes on cats isn’t recommended, so be sure to buy pet-specific wipes for this.
- Bathing: Regular bathing in the tub with lukewarm water and shampoo will also help to remove dirt and odors from your cat’s coat, and is a great option if there is a general smell coming from all over. Again, you’ll need to use a cat-friendly shampoo as using human shampoo on cats isn’t recommended and can cause skin irritation.
So, why do cats smell better than dogs? It is mainly because cats have evolved to self-groom frequently. This has helped their survival by masking their scent from predators, helping to regulate their body temperature, and protecting them from infections. Plus, it’s a comfort behavior they have had since they were kittens. Dogs, on the other hand, don’t rely on self-grooming.
Besides, whereas a cat’s sebum gives off a mild body odor, dogs emit smells through perspiration, natural oils, and glands in their ears and feces. Combined with the fact that dogs eat almost anything, it’s no wonder dogs are smellier than our clean and sweet-smelling kitties.
Wonderful article! I argue with my sister a lot about whether cats or dogs are better. This sums up why I prefer cats over dogs. I don’t like how a dog can bring into your house all kinds of gross things, but cats, even outdoor ones, will wash all that gunk away! Awesome!