Cats and shoes don’t seem to go together. A cat living in the wild would likely never encounter a pair of shoes. So an affinity for shoes certainly isn’t hidden somewhere in the modern pet cat’s list of evolutionary favorites.
Cats don’t wear shoes and they don’t have any context for what shoes are used for or even why they exist.
But give a cat a shoe and you might as well be invisible for all the attention they will pay to you afterward. Why do cats like shoes so much? Read on to find out!
Why Do Cats Like Shoes
The simplest explanation for why cats like shoes are that shoes are stinky! Shoes are natural odor keepers and each of those odors holds potentially valuable information to a cat.
Read on to learn about other intriguing hypotheses for why cats like shoes.
Learn About Cats and Shoes from a Feline Owner
This YouTube video shares interesting information about some of the leading hypotheses for why cats love shoes so much.
As this video highlights, even though cats and their people can’t talk directly to discuss this feline shoe fetish, there is a lot we do know about cat senses that can indirectly explain why shoes seem so enticing to cats.
Scientific Theories for Why Cats Like Shoes
As we mentioned in the introduction to this article, most cats seem to love shoes and this makes sense to no one except the cats.
But feline researchers do have a theory about why shoes are so enticing to the average cat – their smell!
But it isn’t just the fact that shoes are stinky that makes them so attractive to cats. National Geographic explains that some of those odors are pheromones – scents deposited by other animals or even by you.
Pheromones are the chemical equivalent of email messages. Animals use pheromones to send and receive messages. Some scent messages your cat may want to keep and hold onto forever, like the smell of you, their owner, and favorite person.
Other scent messages your cat may want to erase and even write over as quickly as possible, like the smell of another cat or the family dog.
In some cases, your cat may simply want to reply to a scent message. How does a cat reply to a pheromone message on your shoes? By rubbing on a few their own pheromones, of course!
So when you see your cat cozying up to your shoes, trying to climb inside your shoes, playing with the shoelaces, playing with the shoes, or even biting or attacking your shoes, what you are really seeing is communication.
You would just have to be a cat to understand what communications are being received, erased, or sent.
Why Cats Like All Shoes – Not Just Your Shoes
As Vetstreet points out, a cat’s sense of smell isn’t just a sense of smell. It can also function as a secondary sense of taste!
The reason for this is simple: cats, like dogs, have an organ called the Jacobson’s organ or vomeronasal organ. This organ sits inside the roof of your cat’s mouth.
The simplest way to explain it is that Jacobson’s organ basically supercharges any scent your cat sniffs to create a sort of smelling and tasting sensation for the cat.
If you have ever watched one of those nature documentaries where a wild cat will stand next to a tree or other object with their mouth wide open and wondered what they are doing, they are using the Jacobson’s organ.
Sometimes people see a cat doing this and they think the cat is smiling because the open mouth lip curling action does look like a smile.
But scientifically speaking, this open-mouth stance is called the Flehmen response. The position of the lips and mouth allows the air to flow into the cat’s mouth and it drifts up to the roof of the mouth where the Jacobson’s organ is located.
Then the organ can extract useful data from the scents on the air currents.
As VCA Animal Hospital highlights, specialized nerves in the Jacobson’s organ have a direct line to the cat’s brain.
When the cat sniffs certain chemical markers, the Jacobson’s organ dispatches this information straight to the brain so the cat can quickly respond appropriately.
This is why cats that like shoes, which is most cats, tend to like all shoes and not just their owner’s shoes. All shoes can potentially carry important scent markers on them. This means all shoes are worthy to be investigated and explored.
Cat Whiskers Are Also Important for Exploring Shoes
Another interesting fact that many cat lovers do not know is that a cat’s whiskers are kind of like a cat version of the human tape measure.
As Kessen Veterinary Clinic explains, cat whiskers are not like the other hairs on a cat’s body.
For starters, cat whiskers are located in very specific places on either side of the cat’s mouth as well as above their mouth, above their eyes, on their jawline, and on the back of each front leg.
That is a lot of whiskers!
Cat whiskers are very specialized. They are thicker than cat fur. Underneath the skin, the root of each whisker goes deeper than a cat’s hair follicle.
And whiskers are so super-sensitive that they don’t even have to make physical contact with an object in the cat’s environment to deliver valuable data back to their owner.
So when a cat approaches a pair of shoes or a single shoe, the whiskers are picking up data about it.
If you have ever watched a cat stick their face into the opening of a shoe, they are using their whiskers as well as their nose to gather data – in this case, how big the shoe interior is and whether they can fit inside it!
How to Keep Cats Away from Your Shoes
For most cat owners, it is all fine and good if your cat likes to play with, pounce on, bite, claw or scratch at your old dirty jogging shoes.
But it is a whole different story when your cat sets their sights on your expensive new dress shoes.
Is there a way you can keep your cat away from your shoes short of locking them up inside a cat-proof box?
PetMD calls this strategy creating a no-cat zone.
No-cat zones might include tables and countertops or even your bed. But they can also include your shoes.
Since cats are primarily drawn to your shoes for their scent messages and, sometimes, the allure of the small spaces inside them, the best strategy is to make both less attractive to your cat.
You can try natural odors like citrus, lavender, peppermint, or commercial cat-safe deterrent scent sprays.
For cats that keep trying to crawl inside your shoes, you can fill them with crinkly, shiny, noisy, sticky, or textured materials that your cat doesn’t like.
Both of these strategies can help keep your shoes safe from your playful, curious feline.
For a cat that cannot seem to stay out of your shoe closet, however, it might not seem feasible to cat-proof each individual pair of shoes.
In this case, you can try a deterrent such as a barrier of sticky material, a strong odor like spicy peppers or citrus, or a motion-sensing light or water spray to keep your cat away.