Does your cat ever make that face? You know the one I’m talking about- it will appear as if Lucifurr is casually sniffing around when she looks up at you with a blank stare, mouth open, and lips curled, then immediately returns to normal?
There is a name for this phenomenon: it’s called the flehmen response, and it occurs in various species, including your domestic cats, horses, goats, elephants, hedgehogs and large felines. Flehmen is a German word that translates as “to bare the teeth” which is exactly how the expression looks.
The flehmen response is most commonly elicited by the odor of urine (i.e. a veterinary professional’s scrubs when he or she returns home…) or other pheromones. During this facial expression, the animal is essentially “smelling” through its mouth, triggering olfactory sensors on the roof of the mouth. The flehmen response is primarily used for intraspecies communication, but there is evidence that animals may respond to the urine or pheromones of other species as well.
Next time your feline friend makes this face, just know that they smell something really, really good!