Why Your Cat Is Sniffing The Air

Cats have a few particularly peculiar behaviors, but anyone that has ever owned one knows that these behaviors typically have a purpose.

Cats can often be seen with their nose up sniffing the air, but why?

Cats sniff the air because they have poor vision and fewer than the normal amount of taste receptors. Their amazing sense of smell helps them to better understand the environment around them, the food that they eat, and if any other animals are nearby or have been recently.

It may look a bit strange at a first glance, but a cat sniffing the air is completely normal—and they do it for very interesting reasons.

We find that our own cats can be seen sniffing the air when we’re eating dinner and there’s leftover food on the kitchen work surface.

We’ll discuss why cats sniff the air and everything that goes into it.

Why Is My Cat Sniffing the Air?

As a cat owner, you may have noticed your cat sniffing the air quite often, but never knew exactly why your cat would do this.

Cats need to sniff the air because their sense of smell is their strongest sense.

It allows them to see and taste things that they would otherwise not be able to. Cats have 200 million odor-sensitive cells, whereas humans only have 5 million.

Here are the reasons why your cat sniffs everything, including the air:

  • Cats cannot see very well, of course, and we are going to find out why that is.
  • Cats use their sense of smell to navigate.
  • Cats use their sense of smell to communicate with other cats and other animals.
  • Cats need their sense of smell to know what they are eating and how to find food, but why is that?

After learning more about this interesting subject, you will likely begin to wonder what your furry friend is smelling around your house that you do not!

Cats Have Poor Vision

The first reason why your cat is sniffing the air is because—like we have said a few times already—cats have very poor vision. In fact, cats are nearsighted.

This means that cats have difficulty seeing things that are far away from them.

A cat’s clarity of vision is 10 times less than a humans.

Mammal’s eyes contain, alongside others, two important structures: the pupil and the retina. Pupils allow light into the eyes, and retinas send the light and images to the brain to form a picture. The retinas include two different types of receptors.

The receptors are called rods and cones. The rods pick up light, while the cones pick up color.

Cats have more rods than cones, meaning that they pick up less detail than us, and when things are far off, they basically see only blobs.

You have likely seen your cat walk slowly and cautiously up to you when you are a distance away from it from time to time, and their nearsightedness is the reason why.

Things are simply quite blurry for your cat, so they are trying to smell out the situation before getting closer.

This sniffing behavior also grants benefits, however. You’ll probably notice that your cat doesn’t sniff the air curiously when you walk into the room, and that’s because it already knows your scent and recognizes you.

The constant sniffing behavior is usually seen when a cat is trying to investigate something new, like when it meets another cat.

Once your cat picks up a strange scent, it will start sniffing the air simply because it’s curious and its sense of smell is the best tool it has.

Their sense of smell definitely makes up for their nearsightedness.

Cats Smell To Navigate

Another reason why your cat sniffs the air is because cats use smell to navigate, something that actually starts right after they are born.

Cats are born with their eyes closed and their eyes stay closed for about a week. After that, it takes up to about 3 weeks for a cats’ eyes to become developed well enough to see things that are close to them.

This means that kittens must use their sense of smell to find their ways to their mothers so that they can eat, so cats get used to using scent to navigate all the way from day 1!

Cats that have fully grown and fully developed eyes still use their sense of smell to navigate and find out where they are.

If they smell anything familiar or a spot where they have marked their territory, then they can know exactly where they are and how to get back home, for example.

Additionally, if you have a male cat that has not been fixed then he will likely use his sense of smell to find a female cat that is in heat, which gives off a scent that male cats can smell up to a mile away.

Cats Use Smell To Communicate With Each Other

The next reason why your cat sniffs the air is because scent is how cats communicate. Since cats cannot speak to get to know each other, they sniff, instead.

When you see cats that have never met before sniffing each other’s heads and the sides of their faces, they are just trying to get a feel for one another.

They can do this because of the pheromones that are being released from each of the cats’ skins as they are greeting.

It is also normal to see your cat sniff another cat’s behind. This gives more details as to what the stranger cat is like because this area has much stronger odors, which causes more revealing pheromones.

Cats can pick up on so many different things just smelling one another. Here are some of the things that cats can learn about other cats by smelling them:

  • The cat’s gender
  • The type of mood the cat is in
  • The overall temperament of the cat
  • Whether the cat is unhealthy, weak, or strong
  • The cat’s favorite thing to eat

It is pretty amazing to know that cats know can so much from just a couple of sniffs!

Cats Need Their Scent-Smelling Abilities To Eat

The last reason why cats sniff the air is because it helps them to eat.

Cats do not have very many taste receptors on their tongues like humans do, so they really depend on the smell of their food to work up an appetite.

In fact, smelling their food is the only way that cats get hungry at all.

It’s known that cats that develop sinus infections or respiratory infections will completely stop eating simply because they cannot smell.

It is important to get any condition mentioned above taken care of immediately to avoid any serious health problems, like anorexia, which is common and deadly for sick cats.

Not only does smelling their food help and encourage their appetite, but it also protects cats from eating something dangerous and poisonous.

Since cats have such a strong sense of smell, they are very sensitive to certain scents and can detect danger in their food easily and avoid being hurt.


Cats occasionally do some strange things, but sniffing the air is not one of them.

Cats need to sniff the air so they can:

  • Get a good picture of what is going on around them,
  • Work up an appetite for their food
  • Detect any other animals are, or have recently been, nearby

Due to their poor vision and low amount of taste receptors, smelling is the only way that these things are possible.