What's That Musky Odor Coming From My Cat?

CatChannel veterinary expert, Arnold Plotnick, DVM, explains how some cats produce anal gland secretions when excited.

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Q: My 5-year-old spayed Bengal queen is very clean by nature, and I keep her well-groomed. She has had several litters and was an excellent mother. She is affectionate but has a strong character and does not suffer fools gladly. She can be a little aggressive with her claws and teeth when she is in play mode.

My question concerns her “musky” odor. It does not come from her coat, which she grooms daily. She is strictly an indoor cat, and the odor does not emanate from her perineal or rectal areas.

I suspect it comes from the “marking” glands on the sides of her mandible, that I see her rubbing against furniture legs, wall corners, etc. — but when I put my face close to hers there is no discernable odor. This musky, feral smell is becoming noticeable in the house. Air fresheners do not dispel it; they just mingle another scent with it.

Do you have any suggestions ?

A: I do not think the scent is coming from the facial glands around her mouth and lips. As you noted, the secretion from these glands is odorless to humans. Although you do not believe that the smell is coming from her perineal or anal area, I suspect that this musky smell is, in fact, coming from her anal glands.

Cats have two small glands just inside their anus. These glands are similar to those used by skunks for defense, although they no longer serve much of a purpose for cats anymore. When cats become excited or frightened, they may suddenly release the contents of their anal glands. As a veterinarian specializing in cats, I’ve had many cats spontaneously release their anal glands in the exam room. The smell quickly permeates the room and is unpleasant, to say the least.

I’m not sure if something is triggering your cat to release her anal glands. She is a feisty cat by your own admission, and I wonder if, when she aggressively plays, she’s expressing these glands. The smell can permeate her fur and linger for a while, making her coat smell musky.

I do not know of any particular product that is designed for reducing or eliminating the smell. I do think that she should be examined by your veterinarian in case she’s one of those cats who just happen to produce an excessive amount of anal gland secretion. If that’s the case, she may need to have these glands expressed by your veterinarian on a regular basis.

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What's That Musky Odor Coming From My Cat?

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Reader Comments

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

7/11/2013 11:52:54 AM

Rob -- Check with your vet to see if that changes things.

Rob    Yorktown Heights, NY

7/9/2013 4:58:09 AM

My cat has the same musky smell odor but the difference here is that my cat is a HE! Does this difference change the equation?

roberta    st. paul, MN

1/11/2013 9:16:06 AM

Wow! I have a 4 month old male kitten and I think this explains the smell that comes out of him. He puts his paws on my shoulders and sucks on my neck and sometimes this awful smell lingers on my clothes; so bad sometimes that I have to change. He isn't neutered yet due to feline leukemia but am working on that. Thank you.

Phyllis    Ballentine, SC

1/23/2010 7:29:53 AM

Thank you for confirming this - my cats' rear smells nauseating. I thought it may be her outside diet, but this explained it better. Ugh. I am about to call my vet about fixing her glands! LOL

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