Butt sniffing is a very natural, instinctive, and basic form of cat-to-cat communication. The cat butt sniff is similar to a human handshake and a way for cats to say “hi” to each other. But the same interaction to us humans can seem rude and aggressive, especially when it manifests in an interested cat excitedly sniffing your personal areas. This aspect of cat behavior makes many owners annoyed, grossed out, and uncomfortable.
Take my friend Anna, for example. Now, Anna has two very friendly and sweet cats that love to spend time with people. In fact, they can sometimes be a little too friendly, because her big kitty Buster will often push his way into your lap and start sniffing. One minute you'll be having a conversation and petting Buster, and the next minute he'll be edging way into your personal space. Anna has said that although Buster is a sweet cat, friends have told her that they don't like to come over because of his behavior.
If you have a cat that is a persistent and even fervent crouch sniffer, please note that this can be very annoying to guests. While it's natural for other cats and to other cats, the same rules do not apply to humans.
Cats instinctively sniff to seek information about other cats and environments. Scent-based communication is the primary way that cats understand one another. The cat-to-cat butt sniff can tell a cat information about the age and sex of the other cat, if the cat is in heat, what their overall health is like, what the cat is eating, and even provide some clues about a cat's emotional state. This sniff can help a cat determine if this will be a friendly encounter… or not.
Cats use their sense of smell to help them understand and assess their environment so much so that it makes sense for them to seek the same information from humans with the same butt or crotch sniff… even if we hate it.
How Do You Stop a Cat From Doing the Crotch Sniff?
If you have the sniffing cat, you can encourage the behavior you want to see and discourage the things you don't want your cat to do. The common perception is that it's impossible to train a cat, but I disagree; I think with humane but firm commands, your cat can learn that this kind of interaction is not ok in the cat-human relationship. Cats can generally detect most human smells from 3 to 4 feet away but every cat is different and some cats want the up-close and personal “news.”
What else can you do? Stay consistent and clear with your communication. Let your cat know the correct behavior when meeting someone by rewarding the behavior you want to see. In the case of an aggressive crouch sniffer, the best option may be keeping them in a different room of the house when guests are over.
What Can You Do if a Cat is Sniffing Inappropriately?
If a cat is actively sniffing you, try the following options:
- Understand that is cat behavior and let it go. Let them have their sniff, which generally only last a few seconds (but can seem like minutes), and wait for them to move on.
- Gently push the cat's head away remove them from your lap.
- Ask the owner to hold onto their cat.
If you are in a situation like Anna's friends, one solution is to talk to the person with the crotch-sniffing cat and explain that you'd prefer a different behavior (that the cat doesn't sniff you when you come over). If the cat owner doesn't oblige and try to correct their cat's behavior, you can meet them in neutral territory such as a restaurant which is cat-free.
Remember, it's up to the owner to encourage proper behavior. If an owner allows or even encourages bad behavior, you as a guest aren't going to be able to fix it on a quick visit.