Stimulus and hormonal determinants of flehmen behavior in cats

Benjamin Hart, Mitzi G. Leedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Felids are the main group of animals, other than ungulates, that display flehmen behavior during sociosexual interactions. In ungulates the behavior is evoked most readily by olfactory investigation of urine and vaginal secretions, and is believed to be involved in the transport of fluid-borne chemical stimuli, such as sex pheromones, from the oral cavity to the vomeronasal organ. In this study of cats flehmen was virtually always preceded by nasooral contact with the stimulus material, supporting the notion that flehmen in this species is also involved in the transport of fluid-borne stimuli. As in ungulates, flehmen in cats during heterosexual encounters was found to be displayed by males only. However, the sexual dimorphism was situation specific. In exploring a urine-marked room without another cat present, females also performed flehmen, albeit less frequently than males, and when urine was applied to the nasooral surface, flehmen was evoked equally reliably in females and males. Administration of testosterone propionate to spayed female cats paired with estrogen-treated females markedly increased their tendency to genitally inspect the female partner and subsequently perform flehmen. Thus the sexually dimorphic attributes of flehmen behavior are not only stimulus dependent, but also influenced by concurrent hormone stimulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-52
Number of pages9
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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