Cat Got Your Tongue?
If you have a cat, you’re likely very familiar with their sandpapery tongues. Though they don’t feel great on human skin, these rough little appendages are an evolutionary marvel. Cat tongues perform several tasks, including helping digest food and feline hygiene.
What Can Cat Tongues Do?
A cat’s tongue has many purposes. Often while grooming cats at the spa, I will get little licks on my arms and hands. The sandpaper sensation always makes me laugh as it is so rough to be in a sweet little mouth.
A cat licking you shows a level of trust and comfort, so let them do their thing as it’s a sure sign of approval! As with humans, tongues do help cats taste food. However, they also help cats with many daily tasks that mere humans need separate tools for. So, what does a cat’s tongue help them do?
Cat Tongues Help With Grooming
My sweet Guenivere used to bathe herself much more than most cats usually do. She was meticulous and her shiny coat showed it! Guenivere was a siamese/himalyan mix with medium to long fur and yet never had a mat tangled up. Part of the reason was that her tongue is also a fancy grooming brush! The little teeth help arrange a cat’s fur, remove dirt and grime, and pull out dead hair.
The rough sandpaper texture of a cat’s tongue is due to scoop-like little keratin spikes called papillae. The papillae are all the same size and shape and angle backwards towards the back of the mouth. These little spikes can handle many different tasks.
For grooming, the cat’s saliva fills the gaps in between papillae, allowing them to deposit enough liquid to wash themselves of grime. The papillae also help push the fur down to allow the saliva to coat the skin and fur and condition it.
The helps more the oils in the fur around to coat the fur and help clean it and make it all nice and shiny. Having bathed and groomed many cats, I can tell you that once the cat is out of the bath and dried off, they immediately start licking themselves. They can go from a tangled mess to suddenly nice, dry and smooth as glass. The tongue also acts as a hair dryer or towel by absorbing the extra moisture.
To remove any mats, cats will nibble with their front teeth to break it up so the papillae are able to adjust and detangle the knots.
Cats Use Baths To Help Cool Off
Cat tongues can also keep cats cooler in the warmer months. My cat Daphne loves to lay outside in the warm weather and take a nice long bath. What she is doing is actually keeping cool by coating herself with saliva which coats the fur and evaporates off.
Cats sweat through their paws (they don’t pant like dogs, any panting is usually a sign of distress in cats), so the excess moisture and evaporation helps cool their bodies.
Rough Tongues Help With Dining
Cats don’t use silverware or glassware to eat or drink but once again, the magnificent tongue turns into dinnerware. The papillae can help pull meat from prey and shred it off into easy to digest pieces.
The scoop shape of the papillae also helps with drinking. The tongue becomes a scoop which pulls the water into the mouth and throat. After 3 or 4 good licks, the cat will swallow and gulp down all the water stored in the mouth and all at once, down the water goes!
A cat’s tongue is an amazing little adaptation. So, go ahead and try to enjoy those sandpaper licks! They’re a sign of approval for humans but also a great use for this incredible multi-use tool.
Rock the Cat Spa owner Cari Thompson is a life-long cat lover. When she's not running the luxury cat spa & hotel, she's playing with her cat, Daphne. She writes weekly blogs on cat behavior, health, and care. To learn more about her, check out the About Me page!