As the title says, just wondering if there is a difference in what animals like dogs and cats perceive as good smell vis a vis humans. Example : Smell of some flowers - great . Fart smells - bad.

  • $\begingroup$ When I see dogs and cows roaming in stinking garbage, I feel like the answer is no. $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2016 at 13:27
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Humans perceive colours differently from each other, so why wouldn't the same be true of pets/dogs/animals in general, for smell? Even humans don't like the same smells. My mother despises the smell of daffodils. They make her gag, and if she is around them enough, vomit; But plenty of other people seem to love the smell. $\endgroup$
    – XaNaX
    Aug 3, 2016 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your comments. XaNaX, I understand your point. What do you think the reason for this difference is ? I am not an expert in understanding how the nose senses smell, but is this perception of good and bad smell physiological or is it psychological ? With eyes, the differences are the rods and cones right, so is the perception of good / bad smell similar? $\endgroup$
    – NewPostdoc
    Aug 3, 2016 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ This article suggests that when we first smell something, we link it to the emotions we feel at the time. Those emotions are then associated with that smell, the article says, and depending on whether or not the original emotion/event was a positive or negative one, we then have a reaction that reflects the original emotion when we again smell that something. $\endgroup$
    – XaNaX
    Aug 3, 2016 at 14:04

1 Answer 1


TL; DR Mostly no.

On a molecular basis, cats' and dogs' noses look quite similar to ours. Most of what we know about smell comes from studies on non-human mammals, and is supposed to apply to humans too. So, big similarity, but...

  1. Cats and dogs distinguish far more kinds of than humans. It's likely they know more kinds of bad smells and good smells, possibly including from things that we think lack odour.
  2. Many animals also have a working vomeronasal organ, that is, a sensing organ similar to the olfactory mucosa we use for sensing common smells. The vomeronasal organ detects pheromones, the smell-like signals used for communication between animals. We, humans, are at least deficient, if not completely unable to use the vomeronasal organ and pheromone signals. It is debatable whether animals conflate regular smells with pheromones. Pheromones are very efficient in conveying information about potential sexual partners, rivals, and so on. So these are a completely different set of bad and good smells, available only to animals. That is, if we can call those sensations smells, a big if.
  3. On the other hand, humans evaluate smells culturally. Some people learn to enjoy offensive smells that people from other cultures carry on disliking. Since dogs have limited ability to manipulate smells and to convey information to another dog, I doubt they can form these cultural constructs of smell. We sense sensuality in a perfume; the dog senses a bunch of pungent flowers, neither good, nor bad.
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the detailed answer Nick and also XaNaX for the link. $\endgroup$
    – NewPostdoc
    Aug 4, 2016 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ @VarunBKothamachu: On another side note regarding point 3: my cats absolutely dislike the new brand of antiperspirant I use. The old one seemed to be more okay to them. Additionally, one of my cats hates the smell of ginger and cumin (she even makes a sound that expresses her aversion and jumps away from it), while the other one clearly does not like it but is not really freaked out when she comes into contact. There must be a thousand anecdotes like that. :) $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2016 at 13:17

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