Mountain Lions And Their Sense Of Smell

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Published on July 6, 2022
Last Updated on October 11, 2023

The mountain lion goes by many names like the cougar, catamount, or panther, but whatever name we choose to call this amazing animal, it remains a unique feline because of its special physical features and skill set. Just like the other species of small cats, the mountain lion is built to be an exceptional hunter. 

However, mountain lions have a peculiar characteristic that one might not expect from a predator, and it has something to do with their sense of smell.

Do Mountain Lions Have A Good Sense Of Smell?

While mountain lions have heightened senses that make them excellent predators, they have a poor sense of smell. This might come as a surprise to others because many predatory animals can detect the scent of their prey from afar.

Other notable predators from the family of felines such as lions and leopards have an acute sense of smell to help them track down their food. As for mountain lions, their limited sense of smell has no use when they are hunting their prey. 

Is The Mountain Lion’s Sense Of Smell Its Least Developed Sense?

Fortunately for mountain lions, whatever they lack in the scent department is offset bigtime by their other special abilities. Therefore, they still remain a formidable predator in their natural habitat. This is certainly bad news for their prey who might have expected to fare a little better.

The sense of smell is the mountain lion’s weakest tool at its disposal, especially when it comes to hunting. On the flip side, their best-developed sense is their vision.

The mountain lion’s excellent eyesight comes in handy when it’s time to look for prey. Hunting in the dark actually gives mountain lions an advantage because the retinas of their large eyes are equipped with more rods than cones– a perfect night vision setup.

Mountain lions also benefit from their enhanced hearing. Their auditory receptors are so sensitive that these animals can hear high-frequency sounds, giving their prey no chance to hide no matter how quiet they try to be.

Do Mountain Lions Have A Worse Sense Of Smell Than Humans?

Humans reading this article should not feel cocky and believe that they have an edge over a powerful animal like the mountain lion. In terms of detecting scent, mountain lions still beat humans by a large mile. The mountain lion’s sense of smell, while bad for a predator, is still about thirty times as effective as our own sense of smell.

Mountain lions are still more likely to identify scents in their surroundings than humans. In the feline family, lions and tigers are better at tracking down their prey or sensing danger through smell. Nonetheless, this is no big deal for mountain lions because they do not use their sense of smell for the same purpose. They have other uses for it, which will be discussed in the next section.

What Do Mountain Lions Use Their Noses For?

Even though the sense of smell of mountain lions is not as developed as their other senses, these animals still have an important use of their noses. As the old saying goes, “We must make the most of what we are given,” a saying that applies to mountain lions and their limited ability to smell.

Hunting For Prey

Compared to other predators, mountain lions do not utilize their sense of smell in hunting down their prey. It is unlikely for a cougar to detect the scent of their food in the air. Thanks to their extraordinary hearing and sight, these large cats are still capable of locking on their target from afar, even though their noses have no contribution to accomplishing that task.

Sensing Danger In Their Surroundings

It is also unusual for a mountain lion to use its nose to sense imminent danger. Some terrestrial animals, wolves, in particular, can be alerted by their sense of smell when an intruder enters their territory. This is not the case with mountain lions, although their ultra-sensitive hearing can do that job for them.

Communicating With Other Mountain Lions

Mountain lions do not rely too much on their sense of smell to communicate with fellow cougars. The best way for these animals to communicate with each other is to create sounds, which they can pick up easily with their excellent hearing.

However, mountain lions can leave scent markings as a message to other cougars to not dare enter their respective territories. Likewise, these scent markings can also be a way for mountain lions to attract mates.

Searching For A Mate

Speaking of attracting company, the most important use of the mountain lion’s sense of smell is to call for a potential mate. A male mountain lion would create a mound of dirt on the ground and then urinate on it to invite female mountain lions nearby.

When a female reaches the mound by following the male’s scent, she will also leave a spray of her urine as a way of telling that she “got the message.”

Why Isn’t The Sense Of Smell As Important As Other Senses For The Mountain Lion?

While the sense of smell of mountain lions is better than that of some species of mammals, humans included, it is not as important as their other senses. As we have discussed earlier, their noses still play a role in their daily lives, although, in terms of survival, a cougar relies more on hearing and eyesight. It’s just that these senses are so heightened that mountain lions will find no need for their sense of smell to either hunt for prey or detect their enemies.

Can You Repel Mountain Lions By Using Smells?

Although mountain lions have a poor sense of smell, they are still able to pick up certain scents that will either attract them or repel them. You may want to know what kind of scent drives these animals away when you are planning to go on a hiking adventure with reported sightings of mountain lions.

Cougars are beautiful animals, that is true, but they are also very powerful animals and it is best to avoid encounters with a highly predatory animal. 

Chemical Smells Can Repel Mountain Lions

Mountain lions are said to dislike the scent of ammonia, which is why many people advise using this chemical compound to keep these animals away. Some also claim that moth balls are effective repellant of wild animals, cougars included, although there is no guarantee that they will work all the time.

Dogs May Or May Not Work Against Mountain Lions

There is no solid proof that mountain lions flee upon detecting the scent of dogs in an area. Although, there are accounts claiming that these animals may be wary of dogs after all.

It is a natural rule that many wild animals follow that they avoid entering a territory with the scent markings of an animal that they are highly afraid of. If a group of mountain lions has a bad experience with a pack of dogs, it may be possible that they will avoid any encounters with dogs from thereon. Therefore, they will steer clear of places with a dog scent. 

Again, this is likely to happen only when the mountain lion is very afraid of dogs. If the cougar has no fear of dogs, then the latter’s scent will not do anything to scare it away.

Animal Urine Don’t Always Scare Mountain Lions

If a mountain lion develops a fear of a particular animal, then it will likely learn to recognize the scent of that animal and prevent going to places with that scent. The urine of that animal should work as a repellant, but there is no assurance that it will work for a long time. Once the mountain lion’s fear dwindles, so is the effectivity of the animal urine to repel it.

Mountain Lions Don’t Care About Human Smells

Mountain lions are not expected to avoid a place with human scents. As we have mentioned earlier, it is important that the mountain lion relates a scent with its fear of the animal who has that scent.

In fact, you must think twice about leaving your own human scent in hopes to keep mountain lions away, because you might create the opposite effect: That mountain lions could grow accustomed to, and less afraid of humans.

Spices May Or May Not Deter Mountain Lions

It is unknown whether certain spices are effective mountain lion repellants. Although, some people believe that pepper sprays are effective in stopping an attack from wild animals, including cougars. 

Are Mountain Lions Smelly Animals?

The source of the smell coming from a mountain lion is likely their own urine and manure. As these animals leave their scent markings by means of urinating and defecating, they may carry the stink of their waste with them. 


  • Tommy

    Hi, I'm Tommy! I'm the founder of I am an animal enthusiast and self-proclaimed wildlife expert as well as a dog trainer and breeder of the breed Löwchen. Since I was a kid, I’ve been wildly fascinated by animals, both from growing up in a rural area where there were always animals around, but especially from seeing them in the wild.

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