Cats vs. Dogs: Why Do Cats Smell Good?

If you have lived with both cats and dogs, you have undoubtedly noticed that the cat smells much better than the dog. In fact, the cat smells downright clean. For this reason, I’ve always loved burying my nose in my cat’s fur and smelling that clean scent. So, why do cats smell good?

Orange cat in window, grooming

Grooming Takes A Lot Of Time

Even now, if your cat hunts, having no smell can keep his prey from discovering him through his scent. As a dog does not engage in solitary hunts, he does not need such camouflage. Thus, his idea of grooming consists in rolling in the stinkiest mess he can find.

Have you ever wondered why, when a dog’s sense of smell is so acute, he can enjoy rolling in stuff with a powerful stench? Has anyone ever researched to try to find out if he finds such rank odors pleasing?

Why Does A Cat’s Grooming Get Him So Clean?

The reason why this daily grooming works for cats stems from their special cleaning tools. These tools consist of their remarkable tongue and their saliva.

Have you ever looked closely at your cat’s tongue? It has tiny hook-shaped projections called “papillae.” These allow kitty’s tongue to grab onto dirt easily and to remove it from their coat.

The papillae also help spread saliva into the deeper coat layer and onto their skin. This saliva contains a natural detergent, so the cat requires no shampoo. The saliva helps remove the dirt, and the cat ends up smelling clean and fresh.

Close-up of cat tongue

Grooming Regulates Body Temperature

Licking his coat transfers a cat’s saliva onto it, making his skin and fur damp. The evaporating saliva causes a cooling effect on his skin.

My old cat, Pogo, had an electric throw to sleep on when the weather got colder. Once when the blanket got too hot for him, I happened to touch his coat and found it thoroughly damp. He must have licked himself to cool down.

The Grooming Process Reduces Infection And Promotes Healing

If your cat happens to incur small cuts on his skin from playing, he can help the healing process. By licking his fur and removing any dirt and pathogens, he can reduce the chance of his wounds becoming infected. Thus, they will heal faster.

The reason: The cat’s saliva contains special enzymes designed to protect against infection. Thus, the saliva of cats acts as a natural antibiotic.

Grooming Can Be Comforting

After birth, when the mother cat licked her kittens, she provided them with comfort and showed love. Thus, this behavior on the part of the mother cat helped the kitten to bond with her.

Self-grooming starts early, and as the cat will remember those times when his mother groomed him, he finds the behavior will help him relax and feel contented.

Of Course, Their Cleanliness Helps Them Avoid Predators

Dark striped mother cat washing orange kitten
Mother-child bonding

Because the cat may encounter larger predators, a benefit of self-grooming removes odors that will alert the predators to his presence.

Also, when the cat hunts, he will gain an advantage as his prey cannot smell him.

Cats Have Very Mild Body Odors

The fact that the cat has fewer sweat glands means he does not perspire so much. The bacteria in the skin breaks down sweat and causes it to smell nasty. Since your kitty perspires in such a minimal amount, he tends to have a much milder body odor.

A cat’s sweat glands are concentrated in their paws, plus he has a few on the lips, nose, and around the anus. These glands can only be found on the hairless areas of his body.

One thing the cat does produce all over this body is an oily secretion called “sebum.” Its function serves to keep the skin moisturized and the coat smooth. Though the sebum can smell nasty when bacteria starts to break it down, the cat’s self-grooming takes care of this problem.

What About Urine Smells?

I believe we can all agree that the cat does not smell like urine, but very often when folks complain about cat smell, they are talking about urine. It’s up to you to deal with that problem.

Yes, a cat’s urine can smell very bad, and once the odor accumulates it is very hard to get rid of it. However, the urine odor does not affect the way the cat itself smells.

In my many years of sharing my home with cats, I have not found their urine smell a problem. I attribute that blessing to cleaning the box regularly, every day at least, and usually twice a day. Your home should have a box for every cat plus one extra. So, if you have one cat, you have two boxes. If you have three cats, you have four boxes.

Besides daily cleaning, at least once every two weeks you should dump the box, wash it out, and put fresh sand in it. If you follow this procedure, you will find the urine smell is not a problem. Your cat, your litter box, and your house will all smell clean.

Certain Conditions Can Make A Cat Smell Bad

If your cat smells unpleasant, you might want to call your vet to learn the reason. You can try these options to help make him smell better:

Tuxedo cat being combed
Grooming the cat
  • Tooth decay can make a cat’s breath smell bad. Learn the proper way to brush your cat’s teeth. Not only will the brushing help improve the smell of his breath, but it could also lead to better overall health.
  • Brushing his coat. Regular brushing can help spread natural oils through his coat and also helps remove dirt and shedding hair.
  • Wiping. Perhaps his body smell comes from his rear end. Use wipes to clean him, but don’t use baby wipes, Instead, get pet-specific wipes.
  • Bathing. Bathe in a tub of lukewarm water, should it become necessary to bathe your cat. Be sure to use a cat-friendly shampoo.

Why Do Dogs Smell So Bad?

First, let me make a point that some dogs do not stink. I remember my son’s black lab, Ana, who really didn’t smell bad at all. Perhaps the cause could be attributed to her staying inside unless walking with her owner, so she never had a chance to roll in something she would consider delicious.

Dogs, however, do have a rather bad odor that often ends to be more potent and unpleasant. Here are some reasons:

  • Dogs are not into self-grooming
  • A dog’s tongue is soft and smooth; no pointy papillae to help remove dirt and stains
  • Dogs don’t have the flexibility of cats
  • Dog saliva has no natural detergent

Believe it or not, a dog can benefit from not self-grooming. They have a different way of dealing with this issue.

Scent Communication

Though cats use scent in their communication, they do not do so to the same extent as dogs. A dog, being a much more social creature than a cat, has more of a need to communicate through scent.

The dog, being a natural pack animal, learns a great deal about another dog through scent. To help him sort things out among his doggie friends, every dog has a unique smell that can only be picked up by another dog.

Two dogs, sniffing butts
Dog communication

A butt sniff in dog society becomes the equivalent of a handshake. Unlike a handshake we might share with a friend, a dog gains vital information about his canine friend from this sniff. He can tell the dog’s age, whether male or female, whether the animal enjoys good health, and his mood, whether good or bad.

Pack Animal Priorities

If dogs hunt, they do so in packs. Therefore, their individual scent does not have as much importance, as they gain their safety in numbers of animals.

They also face fewer dangers from predators than a cat, as they are much larger than kitty, usually. Thus, self-grooming does not rank high in importance.

Dogs Cool Down By Panting

Unlike a cat who uses his saliva to cool himself down, a dog pants. This panting helps the dog cool down effectively.

A panting dog circulates cool air through their body. At the same time, the evaporation of water from their mouth and throat helps to create the cooling they desire.

Black dog, panting
Panting dog

Dogs’ Bodies Have A Much Stronger Natural Body Odor

A dog’s sweat glands are located on paw pads and noses, meaning sweat does not make a major contribution to the dog’s body smell. As they perspire slightly from their hair follicles, the smell created here gives each dog its individual scent.

Also, dogs produce oils to help keep their skin and fur healthy. These oils have a strong scent. Though the oils serve a similar function to a cat’s sebum, the composition is completely different. The smell produced creates a much stronger odor than cat sedum, and we who smell it find it unpleasant.

Also, the sets of glands in their ears and their butts produce less-than-favorable odors. The glands in the ears produce a yeasty scent, while the glands around their anus give off a musty smell.

A Dog’s Diet Can Contribute

Because a dog will eat just about anything they can, from human food to dog food, or from trash to feces, they can ferment a variety of unpleasant odors. Cats, on the other hand, will only consume certain things, thus not affecting their odor a great deal.


Those of us who love our cats can find the kitty’s smell one of his best features. It’s nice to spend time with an animal that does not cause us to wrinkle up our noses and exclaim, “Whew! What a stink!”

Group of cats, paw in air, grooming
Synchronized licking team

Though we can find both cats and dogs lovable, we can definitely enjoy the fresh, clean scent of our kitty. It’s one of his fine qualities for you to enjoy.

References I Used For This Post:

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