Is B.O. catnip?
September 19, 2011 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Why does my cat seem to like sweaty clothes?

This is behavior I've noticed in about a third of the cats I've known and loved, and it appears to have no relation to the animal's sex. When I leave gym clothes or other sweaty clothes on the floor, even if they've been there for a while (I... don't do that often, I promise.), my cats will roll around in them in delight. I can think of several possible reasons for the appeal, but it's all just speculation. Any thoughts on what the appeal is?
posted by c'mon sea legs to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It smells like you (even if you can't smell it, they can). They want their scent all over yours and your scent all over them.

I always figured it was a bonding thing.

(also.. I had cats who do this with discarded undies. She's a strange cat.)
posted by royalsong at 6:40 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

cat like stinky smelly stuff. have you never seen you kitty stick his/her whole head inside a recently removed shoe or boot? they lubs da stinkies...
posted by supermedusa at 6:43 PM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

It smells like you, but also, cats are aliens.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:45 PM on September 19, 2011 [15 favorites]

I once had to remove my roommate's cat from one of those flip-flop style slippers. It shoved its face so far in it came out the other side and got stuck.

Another vote for just trying to rub itself in whatever stinky thing smells like its owner. (The cat has yet to rub itself all over my stuff. The cat doesn't like me very much.)
posted by phunniemee at 6:47 PM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Smells like you, and they loff you. And you feed them.
posted by tristeza at 6:58 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hey now, you're supposed to post pictures of said cats!

nthing what everyone else has said.
posted by Caravantea at 7:01 PM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

After I exercise, my cat sometimes likes to suckle my armpits. The girlfriend thinks it's gross. I'm undecided. But it's pretty damned funny.
posted by chasing at 7:24 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

My cat will push his nose into my armpits and get so excited that he actually takes a little bite. My wife is jealous because he only does this with me. I will actually hang my gym shirt over my cat's favorite chair after working out to entice him and get him excited.

In general, the answer to 90% of the questions you might have about cats is Because it's a cat and the other 10% is Because they're fucking crazy.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:37 PM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Smells like you, and you are the Food Bringer.

When one of my cats got UTIs and it hurt to pee, he would seek out our stinkiest dirty laundry to pee in. The vet said because it smelled like us and was comforting to him while he was in pain.

At least it was dirty laundry.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:38 PM on September 19, 2011

Cats share their scents by pushing their faces against one another, and get scents on them with the same move. So something that smells strongly of someone in the house is ripe (excuse the pun) territory for scent sharing.

A stronger scent sharing behavior (especially among male cats) is urine marking, so be careful with the placement of sweaty clothes!
posted by xingcat at 7:40 PM on September 19, 2011

This is why if you go on a trip, it's nice to leave a few of your unwashed garments around for your cat to remember you by.
posted by zadcat at 8:44 PM on September 19, 2011

I've been told it's also the salt of sweat that they find appealing.

Don't ever let a cat lick the lining of your motorbike helmet. Riding around in a helmet that smells of cat breath is very unpleasant.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:17 PM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nithing the "it smells like you / cats like to scent-mix" suggestions others have offered. That's probably the primary reason for the feline sweaty-sock fetish. OTOH, I have sort of a pet theory that cat brains are wired VERY differently from ours when it comes to scent in general. I mean they actively hallucinate (or seem to, at least) just from sniffing catnip because their brains happen to have the right kind of receptors to allow that.

And I've seen a number of cats have obsessions with certain smells *other* than those specifically associated with, say, human sweat. One of my current four kitties has a thing for rubber (no, really) -- I've obtained a bunch of tools over the past year due to ongoing home-improvement projects and when the rubber mallet (handy for banging the lids onto paint cans and whatnot) first showed up I literally caught Shadow on the couch with it, hugging and snuggling and licking and rubbing his face all over it. I also had to stop cleaning my kitchen floor with a (very very dilute) bleach solution because all 3 younger cats would go and roll themselves all over the place on it, like they were experiencing some sort of pheromonal ecstasy. And let's not even get me started on when I caught one of my boys (shortly AFTER neutering, mind you) humping a roll of burlap....
posted by aecorwin at 9:43 PM on September 19, 2011

Rule #1: Cats are wierd
posted by hardcode at 2:06 AM on September 20, 2011

Agreeing with the "cats are smell-obsessed" comment. Mine loves the smell of olives and Bounce, as well as anything made of leather.
posted by sdn at 2:35 AM on September 20, 2011

You are lucky that is all the cat is doing. When my husband leaves his nasty sweat soaked clothes on the bathroom floor the cats seem to think, "Ooooohh, so here's another place it is okay to pee in the house, it's already pre-stunk up for us!"
posted by Jazz Hands at 3:32 AM on September 20, 2011

It's firstly because cats are weird.

It's secondly because your cats are hedging their bets that it's clean laundry to fuzz up.

It's thirdly because they don't deign to show their love by sitting on your lap properly, so it's a covert bonding thing.

I caught my cat cuddling my boyfriend's discarded sweatshirt even though he takes every chance to nip at the boyfriend and pretend to hate him. Oh, the guilt in those big green eyes.
posted by motsque at 6:37 AM on September 20, 2011

I don't know about "cats love you" and "you're the food bringer" etc. I love cats even though they are in business for themselves, 100%. That said: Once had a Siamese who would collapse in raptures inhaling the pungent aroma from my high school gym bag with its really odoriferous sox and jock straps and such. Seriously, she was with that thing the way other cats are with catnip. My vote is "cats are weird" which is, truly, undeniable.
posted by charris5005 at 9:50 AM on September 20, 2011

I was at the zoo one day and they were spraying a corner in the big cat enclosure with a sprayer. I asked the zookeeper why and she said they were trying a bunch of different things (different perfumes, etc.) just to see which ones the cats like or react to. She said it was pretty random, they would respond strongly to one perfume but not to something with similar notes, and they respond positively to things that smell both "bad" and "good" to humans. Basically, cats are weird. If you wanted to run a mini-experiment at home it could be interesting, just make sure you check anything you use against a list of things which are toxic to cats first.
posted by anaelith at 11:19 AM on September 20, 2011

After peeling my padded bike shorts off after a ride I'd shower and return to the bedroom to find Domino curled up on the short's butt pad purring loudly.
Lola used to like the covered wagon treatment under the blankets in bed.

I think cats just like stinky odors.
posted by No Shmoobles at 2:40 PM on September 20, 2011

I've been woken up by a cat licking my armpit. I think it comes down to being Eau de You. And maybe the salt content.
posted by deborah at 10:36 AM on September 23, 2011

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