So, it has been a while since I last blogged. To sum it up, I was busy with 2 trips out of town, a trip to the ER with my sick son (not appendicitis!), a small flood and the clean up that comes along with it (thanks Servpro), and the school musical, which is about to come to an end, but not before a few more performances, not to mention a snow storm, and a snow day, and rescheduling many appointments into the same days that the musical happens to occur, and reoccur.
So, there is no segueway into the topic that I thought I might discuss:male cat smell. Why is it there, and where does it come from? Most of you have male cats that are neutered around 6 months of age, but for a select few who get to experience the scent of an intact tomcat, you know just how “curiously strong” that scent can be, and that of their urine. But why?
It all comes down to reproduction. Female cats can be very choosy while selecting a father for their kittens. So tomcats start advertising how successful they are, often before they even meet the female. The pungent, and repellent to us, smell of their urine presents vital information to female cats. Male cats spray their urine as high as they can to advertise their smell to as many as they can.
This powerful urine odor of an unneutered male, is much stronger than the urine odor of a female, or a neutered male. The source is a mixture of sulfur containing molecules (thiols), similar to those that give garlic its smell. It does not appear in the urine until a cat has voided and the urine has had contact with the air. These molecules are stored in the urine in an odorless form, as an amino acid known as felinine. It is composed of two amino acids, both of which contain sulfur molecules responsible for the pungent odor. Without a certain amount of protein in their diets, cats cannot make felinine, Thus a smellier urine indicates a better hunter, obtaining the protein necessary by hunting more, and more successfully, for that matter.
There is also a marker identifying which male produced which scent in the urine.Scientists have yet to elucidate what this is exactly, but they do seem to think it has to do with detection by the vomeronasal organ in the female, which is again proving so important in those species that have it.
So, urine contains a behavioral “signature” of a male cat, which is understood by the female in question. It’s another example of evolution at work.