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Vomero-Nasal Organ and the Flehmen Response in Cats

It looks like a grimace but it's actually an extended sniff

 

MetPet.com Staff Writer

The Vomero-Nasal Organ or VMO is also known as Jacobsen's organ.  It is located in the roof of the mouth with a small opening behind the front teeth.  This tiny organ (approximately 1/2" long) is thought to "taste" the air and to offer the cat additional sensory information. 

When a cat sniffs an odor, it sometimes draws its lips back from its teeth into a grimace.  It draws back from the source of the odor, the eyes narrow into slits and the cat pauses to contemplate.  It may flick its tongue, sit back on its haunches and appear to be in a trance for several seconds.  This grimace is known as the Flehmen reponse and it is the cat making use of its VMO. 

It is easy to see the grimace as a reaction against a bad odor when it is actually just the opposite.  When a cat sniffs a sharp smelling chemical, such as those in some household cleaners, heavily spiced foods or citrus scents, it turns away or draws back quickly to get away from the odor.  The Flehmen response is just the opposite.  The cat wants additional information from the odor.

What is that additional information?  It is thought that female urine can produce a strong Flehmen reaction in male cats although other odors produce it as well to differing degrees.

 
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