By Deborah Hansen
Growling and hissing after a groom happens quite often in multiple cat households. Since the feline’s strongest sense is smell, anytime one cat smells different, the other cats in the home won’t “recognize” her.
Hissy Fits can be very upsetting to cat owners, especially after the owner just paid to make their cat look beautiful. When Fluffy returns home to a multiple cat household, oftentimes her siblings will hiss at her. Then Fluffy does what comes naturally and will hiss back. The owner often becomes alarmed that their peaceful home is now a war zone.
How many times have you done a great groom on a cat, the cat gets home and the owner calls? All the cats in the home are hissing at each other! What is wrong? Often, you the groomer, gets blamed for the household disruption. Why does this happen? How does the owner stop it? Most importantly, how do you increase your bottom line from Hissy Fits?
Growling and hissing after a groom happens quite often in multiple cat households. Since the feline’s strongest sense is smell, anytime one cat smells different, the other cats in the home won’t “recognize” her. While this seems odd to us, it is simply because the freshly groomed cat smells different.
The cat that was just groomed was not only handled by people the other household cats are not familiar with, if she was also given a bath, her natural scent was removed. Plus, the cat now also has the scent of the products used during the groom on her coat and skin. All these factors make the feline smell much different than her “normal self”, in turn causing an unwelcoming reaction from the other cats in the home.
This is also why most cats lick after being groomed. The goal of licking after a groom is to replace the scent that was removed during a bath and get rid of the scents that were added by the human contact and products used during the grooming process.
Looking at The Science
Now that we know what is going on, let us look at why it is occurring. The household cat has approximately 13 times more olfactory nerves as a human and is about 1/20th the size. Scent receptors number 200 million for cats compared to 5 million for humans. Felines also have a sniff mechanism and vomeronasal organ that are not found in other mammals. All of which adds up to make the house cat a small animal who has an incredible sense of smell.
The olfactory nerves, scent receptors, vomeronasal organ and sniff mechanism are all needed to aide cats in recognizing members of their own social group, reproduce and find food. This complex orchestra of nerves, receptors, organs, and mechanisms are documented as being highly developed at birth. A cat’s survival is based on smell until they are three weeks of age. This complex system will allow a newborn to find and return to a preferred nipple, react to offensive odors by day two, and by about week five help the cat distinguish between edible and inedible items.
What exactly is an olfactory nerve? To oversimplify, it is a fibrous nerve in the back and top of the nasal passage that directly transfers nerve impulses (regarding odors) to the brain to convey the sense of smell. If damaged, these nerves will not always regenerate.
Scent receptor proteins can be quite a confusing subject. Out of the three types of this protein, V1R is what makes a mammal separate one scent from another. While humans only have two strands of V1R, felines have thirty which allow them to distinguish far more scents than even canines with nine stands of V1R.
The vomeronasal organ is an organ found in the top of the mouth in cats. This organ aides in processing smell and connects to the area of the brain that recognizes other cats and members of the social group, feeding and reproduction behaviors.
The sniff mechanism is a real function of cats that helps them to understand scents in their environment. Have you ever observed a cat appear to be breathing with her mouth open for a few seconds? That is the cat using her sniff mechanism. She has closed off her breathing while taking a series of short sniffs to fill up her nasal passage, allowing the scent molecules to interact with the scent receptors and hairs of the olfactory nerves. This helps the cat identify behaviors of the other cats in her social group.
In summary, due to the unique structure, function and mechanics of a feline nasal cavity, added to the purpose of scent in felines (mating, social interaction and feeding), when a cat who doesn’t smell like she usually does comes home, the other cats in her social circle go on high alert to protect their environment and feeding rituals often causing the freshly groomed cat to be viewed as an outsider.
The felines in the home will return to normal in 24 to 48 hours. However, if the client is asking for immediate solutions, or you feel better giving options, there are things that can be done to help the cat readjust to the home environment. In my business, I suggest rubbing something that has a strong scent of the owner on the cat’s coat. Worn socks or undergarments, pillowcases or used bath towels will work well.
Here is how to make Hissy Fits profitable to your business. The bottom line is one cat smells like your grooming environment and the others do not. You have two options; both will increase your bottom line. First, suggest all cats are groomed on the same day. This solves the problem in a few ways. All the cats smell the same, all the cats know where the other cats were and what happened to them. However, the key here is that when all the cats return home, they are all trying to reapply their own scent to themselves, getting back to normal versus investigating the cat that smells different.
If bringing all the cats to the groomer is not practical or something the owner is not interested in, another option that will profit your business while keeping harmony in the home is grooming the cat more frequently. If one cat is on a 4–6 week schedule, after a few grooms, the other cats will get used to Fluffy leaving for the day and coming home smelling different.
Be assured the home environment will return to normal in a day or two, with the exception of a freshly groomed cat. While Hissy Fits can be surprising, upsetting and concerning for owners, they will pass without human intervention while giving you an opportunity to raise your bottom line! ✂
Deborah Hansen CFMG, CFCG is the owner of a very successful feline exclusive, house call grooming business, Kitty’s Purrfect Spa. She is also the founder of “Deborah’s Programs”, a complete rebooking system to get all cats onto a regular grooming schedule, and owner and creator of Kitty’s Kopy Kats, a stationary store for anyone who grooms cats. Deborah is the creative talent behind Feline Artistic Creations and an author in multiple publications with worldwide distribution, including Purrfect Pointers, Groom and local publications on the topics of feline grooming and business growth, and of the National Cat Groomers Institute of America’s class, “Deborah’s Programs”. She is also a Feline Specialist and Correspondent for the National Association of Professional Creative Groomers.