What is the Flehmen Response?

If you have a pet cat at home, you may have occasionally noticed them making a funny face. You know the one where your kitty has their mouth open, tongue out, and it looks like they’re grimacing. Would you believe there’s a name for that expression?! It’s called the flehmen response. And the cool thing is, domestic cats aren’t the only felids that have this response. Mountain lions, bobcats and other cats do the same thing! But what is the flehmen response?

The flehmen response is the way that cats investigate odors. They have a special sensory organ in the roof of their mouth that is called the vomeronasal organ, or, more commonly, the Jacobson’s organ. This organ is comprised of two fluid-filled sacs that are connected to the nasal cavity via the nasopalatine canal. The canal is basically two small ducts that transmit scent information collected in the mouth to the cat’s nasal cavity. The vomeronasal organ analyzes the scent information and then relays it on to the cat’s brain. The cat’s goofy expression is caused by the cat drawing in a scent through its mouth instead of its nose.

Cats typically exhibit the flehmen response when they are detecting scents like pheromones that are left behind by other cats. This is one of the unique ways in which both domestic and wild cats communicate!

Denise Peterson

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