What Animal Has the Best Sense of Smell and Why?

As humans or homo sapiens, we tend to think that we are the most potent when it comes to sense organs. However, one thing that most humans are aligned on is that dogs have the best or the sharpest sense of smell. However, many of you would be surprised to know that dogs only happen to be one of the animal that has the best sense of smell.

Surprisingly, recent studies have shown that we have been incorrectly assuming that dogs have the best sense of smell. True, dogs have the strongest sixth sense. However, when it comes to considering what animal has the best sense of smell, recent studies show that it is elephants and not dogs.

Even more surprising is that studies show that elephants are born with the strongest sense of smell. They have great smell the moment the pop out of their mommies. Hence, the clear conclusion that one can draw here is that we can’t acknowledge one specific animal as superior in sense of smell. However, there is a list of 10-15 animals with a superior olfactory sense.

Multiple studies have shown that the genetic composition of animals has a huge role in their ability to detect various smells in their vicinity. Parameters that scientists usually consider while comparing the olfactory abilities of various species include olfactory receptors (ORs), functional OR genes, and so on.

Top 10 animals with best sense of smell

When it comes to animals and their olfactory sense, there are some animals with superior sense of smell than other animals. There are also animals with a mediocre sense of smell, much like us humans. Today, we only focus on the top 10 animals with best sense of smell as they have their olfactory sense on point:


Elephants have roughly 2000 distinctive genes dedicated to their superior olfactory capabilities. These big animals can also trace or rather smell underground water from over 20 kilometers away. Apart from this, they recognize a wide range of odors in their surroundings much faster than any other species of animals.

Elephants can also differentiate between different smells that have minute structural differences. Most other species of animals and humans cannot differentiate between such odors. They are seen using their trunks quite frequently because they have such superior smelling capacity. It is with their trunk that they smell their surroundings.

What Animal Has the Best Sense of Smell


In the list of what animal has the best sense of smell, we had to mention sharks. As they are predatory, their ability to smell is extremely significant.

Sharks use their sense of smell to hunt food. They can usually smell an injured marine creature or even an injured human from many miles away. This is because their olfactory capacities occupy almost 2/3rds of their brains.

If you ever tune into Nat Geo or Animal Planet and watch shark shows, you are bound to witness at least one scene of an injured human being attacked by a shark. As they inhabit large water bodies and have water flowing over their nostril consistently, they can easily spot their prey.

Their nostrils are located in the corners of their mouths, so it doesn’t take them much time to get a grip on their prey once they smell it. So, their unique bodily structure facilitates their ability to smell and hunt more efficiently.

What Animal Has the Best Sense of Smell


As is obvious from their appearance, bears have huge nostrils, facilitating their keen sense of smell. It is said that a bear’s nose is a hundred times more potent than a human’s nose.

Bears detect the aroma of even human food, especially food that is appetizing, from many miles away. Bears can detect the presence of dead animals from miles away. This is particularly true for polar bears. It is also a known fact that the olfactory bulbs of polar bears are five times larger than those of humans.


When it comes to what animal has the strongest sense of smell, you must take advantage of dogs. While most species use their superior sense of smell to spot their prey or food, dogs usually use it to spot anything that makes them curious.

They are usually drawn to unfamiliar and suspicious smells. Of course, dogs also use their olfactory senses to spot food or realize when they are served food. Also, it is a well-known fact that dogs are employed by cops owing to their amazing sense of smell.

One breed of dogs called basset hounds, is particularly well-known for their ability to smell using their ears and nostrils. They usually use their ears to detect the smell from the ground and then transfer it to their ears.


A list of the top 10 animals with the best sense of smell can only be completed by mentioning snakes. The snake usually uses their sense of smell to compensate for the lack of strong eyesight and hearing capabilities.

While snakes have nostrils, they use an organ named Jacobson’s (vomeronasal) organ to detect smells in their surroundings. This organ is located right on top of their mouths.

Snakes usually open their mouths and use their tongue as a flap to process the smells in their surrounding environment. These sharp impulses make snakes one of the most dreadful creatures on the planet.

Corn Snake


Cows are known to have over 1000 olfactory genes, enabling them to detect smells from long distances. They can pick up smells from a little over six kilometers away. They also use their olfactory senses to get hints of potential danger in their surroundings.

Cows are among the few herbivores with a superior sense of smell. Their superior sense of smell and hearing ability make them one of the most cautious animals out of all herbivores.

Silk Moths

Though they are insects and shouldn’t ideally feature in the top 10 animals with the best sense of smell, they are included because their olfactory senses are splendid.

A male silk moth can detect smells from up to 8 miles away. Male moths are also blessed with the ability to detect the scent of female moths from miles away. Their nostrils are particularly equipped for this.

Though moths don’t have a proper nose, they have antennae with odor-smelling capabilities. They have scent receptors in their antennae, enabling them to detect the pheromones of female moths from almost 7 miles away.

What Animal Has the Best Sense of Smell

Turkey Vultures

Vultures fall under the bird category but is a must addition to the what animal has the strongest sense of smell list. There are 23 different species of vultures, out of which turkey vultures are the most prevalent and commonly seen.

These creatures use their fine sense of smell to detect their food. They have olfactory bulbs that are almost 4-5 times larger than those of black vultures.

Vultures are also blessed with a significant nasal cavity. Their ability to detect dead animals from miles away is of special importance as it helps them spot their food and survive longer than ordinary black vultures.

turkey vulture


Rats are one of the strongest mammals when it comes to olfactory capabilities. They can afford a more diversified diet than cats because of their strong sense of smell.

Rats use their olfactory senses to spot their prey that helps them hunt better. They have thousands of olfactory receptor genes, which enable them to smell efficaciously. These receptors are situated at the back of their necks. Rats also use these receptors to smell and differentiate between various types of other rats.

Due to their superior olfactory sense, many varieties of rats are even employed to spot landmines. One such example is the African Giant Pouched Rats. Though they have poor vision, their superior sense of smell makes up for it.

Rats are also trained to assess patient samples in hospitals for tuberculosis. They have been employed for such purposes in many countries, including Cambodia.


The list of what animal has the best sense of smell includes the rare bird species of kiwis. The most salient feature of this bird is that it is flightless.

These birds are blessed with a specific kind of beak that enables them to smell. This is another animal, rather a bird, in this list that compensates for its lack of vision with superior sense of smell. All this is because most of their brain is entirely dedicated to smell detection.

kiwi bird

Animals with superior eyesight

As long as we are covering different animals basis different sense organs, let us also talk about animals with strong eyesight.

While there are many parameters that we can consider for vision, the common parameters are as follows:

  • Ability to adjust focus depending on the distance of objects from the eyes
  • Ability to differentiate between a wide number of colors
  • Range of light spectrum that can be seen

Birds that usually top the charts are eagles, hawks, and falcons. They can see up to the greatest distances during daytime out of all birds, mammals, and humans.

Eagles have the sharpest vision of all and an eyesight of 20/2.5. Eagles also see more colors of the UV spectrum than most humans.

Another important parameter is vision during nighttime. The animals that are strongest in this parameter are owls and cats. Domestic cats can see in minimal illumination rather than 1/8th of the needed light. Surprisingly, owls can be almost ten times better than that.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Which animals have the strongest sense of smell?

Elephants have the strongest sense of smell out of all animals.

2. Can bears smell better than dogs?

Yes, bears do smell better and more efficiently than dogs. For instance, black bears can smell far better than bloodhounds.

3. How important is olfactory sense for animals?

Since most animals are predatory, the sense of smell is of utmost significance. It helps them detect danger and their food.

4. Why do animals have superior sense of smell?

The sense of smell enables animals to detect chemical reactions. It helps them detect any harm that might await them in their surroundings and hence thrive.

5. Which animals have a heavy dependence on their sense of smell?

Animals that rely heavily on their sense of smell include elephants, sharks, dogs, bears, and snakes.

6. Do animals have the capability to smell emotions?

Out of all animals, dogs can detect emotions in humans. Hence, dogs are the most emotionally supportive fur babies.

7. Can animals smell fear?

Yes, animals can very much smell fear. Some animals that top the charts in this category are minnows, rats, mice, and deer. As you may have noticed, these are usually animals that other more vicious and superior animals hunt.

8. Which animals are weak in the category of smelling?

Animals with poor sense of smell are dolphins. This is mainly because they do not have the neural connection that relays olfactory information from the nostrils to the brain.

9. Which animals can smell blood?

Animals that can smell blood the fastest are sharks and dogs.

Final Thoughts

The answer to what animal has the best sense of smell is elephant. But that does not make the mighty jungle dominator the only one. From dogs to snakes, many animals have sharp olfactory sense, making them receptive to all types of smells.

Shusree Mukherjee
Shusree Mukherjee
With 10+ years of experience in SEO content writing, Shusree believes content can move mountains while you deep dive into a pool of new experiences through learning and unlearning. Shusree loves to write on travel, health, beauty, celebrity, food, and all that jazz.

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