If you’ve ever watched your cat, you know she can keep you entertained for hours. Her natural feline behaviors, including as chasing a bug, climbing on furniture, and rolling on her back, are similar to those seen in wild cats such as tigers and leopards. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that your cat has a behavior in common with her undomesticated cousins, flehmen. This unique name (pronounced flay-men) is taken from a German phrase that refers to the upper lip curling.
Do you ever catch your cat with her mouth open?
Cats frequently leave their lips open to aid in their investigation of their environment. When cats smell something unusual, they open their jaws to try to identify it. The cat makes a comical expression by wrinkling her nose and pulling her upper lip back. Your cat inhales air and transfers it to a Jacobson’s organ, also known as the vomeronasal sac, which is located behind the teeth in the roof of a cat’s mouth. Smells are processed by this organ, which then sends messages to the brain.
What smells so good?
The odors in question are frequently associated with territoriality, as cats detect urine stains left by other species members. They also go into overdrive when a female cat in heat leaves odors in the neighborhood, but not in response to another animal. Flehmen is more common in male cats, although mother cats rely on it to keep track of their kittens. The behavior can also be used to determine the availability of certain foods or catnip.
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Other animals, such as snakes that stretch their tongues out to explore their surroundings and elephants who reach out with their trunks, conduct similar behaviors. The behavior is regarded to be pleasurable for the animals, and some appear to enter a trance-like condition during the procedure. Herd animals, such as cows, horses, and donkeys, are particularly expressive in their flehmen behaviors, and we’ve all seen pictures of horses raising their heads to the sky while sucking in air. Try identifying the aroma your cat is feeling the next time you see her with her mouth hanging open.
Cats do the darnedest things!
Cats perform a variety of strange behaviors that we don’t understand, including as drooling, meowing, leaving their jaws open, kneading, and rubbing on your leg. Read our article “6 Strange Cat Actions Explained” to discover more about how to understand your feline’s strange behaviors.
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