Have you ever noticed your cat gagging at certain smells and wondered why? It’s a common behaviour that leaves many cat owners puzzled.
In this article, we’ll delve into why cats gag at smells. We’ll explore the feline gag reflex, the role of smell in a cat’s life, and the health conditions that might cause this reaction.
Understanding Cats’ Gag Reflex
What is a Cat’s Gag Reflex?
Just like humans, cats have a gag reflex. This complex reflex is triggered when an irritating substance or object touches the back of the throat, roof of the mouth, or area around the tonsils.
The purpose of the gag reflex is to protect the throat and prevent choking. It’s a natural defence mechanism that helps to keep the airway clear.
In cats, the gag reflex is quite sensitive. It can be triggered by various things, including certain smells, tastes, or textures.
It’s common for a cat to gag when encountering a new food or smell for the first time. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the cat is in distress or discomfort. It’s simply their body reacting to a potentially harmful substance.
Why Do Cats Have a Gag Reflex?
Cats have a gag reflex for the same reason humans do: to protect their airways. The gag reflex is a crucial part of a cat’s defence system.
It helps prevent choking and aspiration, leading to serious health problems. When a cat gags, it’s a sign that its body is working to expel something that shouldn’t exist.
The Role of Smell in Cats’ Lives
How Cats Use Their Sense of Smell
Cats have a highly developed sense of smell. In fact, their sense of smell is about 14 times stronger than that of humans.
Cats use their sense of smell to gather information about their environment, identify food, and communicate with other cats. It’s an essential part of their survival and well-being.
When a cat encounters a new smell, it will often sniff it thoroughly to gather as much information as possible.
This is why you might see your cat sniffing around a new piece of furniture or a visitor’s shoes. They’re simply trying to learn more about their environment.
The Impact of Smell on Cats’ Eating Habits
Smell plays a significant role in a cat’s eating habits, even influencing how long a cat can go without eating. Cats use their sense of smell to identify food and determine whether it’s safe to eat.
If food smells unfamiliar or unpleasant, a cat might refuse to eat it. This is why some cats are so picky about their food. They rely heavily on their sense of smell to decide what to eat.
Why Cats Gag at Certain Smells
The Connection Between Smell and Gagging in Cats
The connection between smell and gagging in cats is not fully understood, but it’s believed to be a protective mechanism.
When cats encounter a strong or unpleasant smell, their gag reflex may be triggered to prevent them from ingesting harmful substances.
This is particularly common when a cat smells certain foods or chemicals for the first time.
It’s also possible that some smells are too strong for a cat’s sensitive nose. Just as a strong perfume or cologne can make a human sneeze or cough, a strong smell can trigger a cat’s gag reflex.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the smell is harmful, just that it overwhelms the cat’s sensitive olfactory system.
Common Smells That Trigger Gagging in Cats
Certain smells, like those from plants you might be trying to keep your cat from eating, are more likely to trigger gagging in cats than others.
It’s also not uncommon for cats to gag at the smell of certain plants or flowers. Each cat is unique, and what triggers one cat’s gag reflex might not bother another.
Health Conditions That Can Cause Cats to Gag at Smells
Dental Disease in Cats
Dental disease, including serious conditions like mouth cancer in cats, can cause a cat to gag at smells. If a cat has a dental problem, such as gingivitis or a tooth abscess, it can make their mouth more sensitive.
This can increase the gag reflex, especially when the cat encounters strong or unfamiliar smells.
Suppose your cat is gagging frequently and showing signs of dental discomfort, such as difficulty eating or drooling. In that case, it’s important to consult a veterinarian.
Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats
Upper respiratory infections, which can be treated with products like Revolution Plus for cats, can also cause cats to gag at smells. These infections can cause inflammation and irritation in the cat’s nasal passages, making them more sensitive to smells.
The infection can sometimes cause a post-nasal drip, triggering the cat’s gag reflex. You should seek veterinary care if your cat is gagging and showing signs of an upper respiratory infection, such as sneezing, coughing, or discharge from the nose or eyes.
Gastrointestinal Problems in Cats
Gastrointestinal problems can also cause cats to gag at smells. Conditions such as gastritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and gastrointestinal obstruction can cause nausea and an increased gag reflex.
Suppose your cat is gagging frequently and showing signs of gastrointestinal discomfort, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, or loss of appetite. In that case, it’s important to consult a veterinarian.
How to Help Your Cat if They Gag at Smells
When to Consult a Veterinarian
If your cat is frequently gagging at smells, it’s important to consult a veterinarian. While occasional gagging can be normal, frequent or severe gagging can indicate a health problem.
Your veterinarian can perform a thorough examination to determine the cause of the gagging and recommend appropriate treatment.
Home Remedies and Prevention
You can also take steps at home to help prevent your cat from gagging at smells. Avoid using strong-smelling cleaning products or perfumes around your cat.
If your cat gags at the smell of certain foods, try offering them a different type of food. You can also use a diffuser with calming pheromones to help reduce your cat’s sensitivity to smells.
Why does my cat gag when they smell human food?
Cats have a highly developed sense of smell, and certain smells, such as spicy or heavily seasoned foods, can trigger their gag reflex. This is a protective mechanism to prevent them from ingesting potentially harmful substances.
Can a cat’s gag reflex be harmful?
In most cases, a cat’s gag reflex is not harmful. It’s a natural defence mechanism that helps to protect their airway. However, if your cat is gagging frequently or severely, it could be a sign of a health problem, and you should consult a veterinarian.
How can I tell if my cat’s gagging is a sign of a serious health problem?
If your cat is frequently gagging or accompanied by other signs of illness such as vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, or difficulty eating, it could be a sign of a serious health problem. In such cases, it’s important to consult a veterinarian.
What should I do if my cat gags frequently?
If your cat gags frequently, it’s important to consult a veterinarian. While occasional gagging can be normal, frequent or severe gagging can indicate a health problem. Your veterinarian can perform a thorough examination to determine the cause of the gagging and recommend appropriate treatment.
Can I train my cat to stop gagging at certain smells?
Training a cat to stop gagging at certain smells is impossible. The gag reflex is a natural defence mechanism that helps to protect the cat’s airway. However, you can take steps to reduce your cat’s exposure to strong or unpleasant smells that trigger its gag reflex.