Pet Care 

Everything you need to know about cat tongues

Although they look adorable, cat tongues don’t feel very cute. What is it about cats’ tongues that are so rough and abrasive? Why are they so special? The cat’s tongue is an important part of their anatomy and can be a window into their health and wellbeing.

The Form and Function of Cat Tongues

One of the most striking physical features of a cat’s tongue is its presence of hundreds upon hundreds of filiform, or keratin protein spines. These tiny, white keratin proteins give it its sandpaper-like texture. Cat tongues are very rough. The sharp hooks on your cat’s tongue are positioned backwards. This gives your cat the ability to grab onto anything they lick, like a blanket or a parent’s skin.

Eaten and drinking

From the smallest domestic kitten to the largest lion in savanna, every cat has spiny filiform papillae on its tongues. These spiky, spiky papillae help cats in the wild by moving food from the back of their mouths to the side and wiping out the bones of prey. Their barbed tongues are vital in feeding your cat, even if you cook them kibble at home.

Cat tongues are different from the many spiky papillae present in other animals. Cats International explains that the tip of the tongue is bent backwards to form a hollow shape similar to a bowl. A cat then “darts” its tongue across the water to create a column that water catches on its tongue. This is a very efficient and remarkable process that relies on surface tension. Watch your cat, and you will see how they collect water. According to Cats International, the cat will swallow once enough water has been collected (every four to five laps).


The average cat has 473 taste buds, compared to the 9,000 for humans and 1,700 for dogs. Cats International states that cats have four tastes, but their senses of sweetness are much less than those of humans and dogs. Cats are obligate meat-eaters, so “sweet” isn’t as appealing to their taste buds. Cat Health says that while some cats might seem to like sweet foods, they are more interested in the fat and not the sugar. Cats also dislike bitter tastes. This is why bitter anti-chew sprays are often effective.


The cat tongue is an essential part of a cat’s thorough grooming. The multi-functional hooks of the papillae splines work as a built-in comb. These spikes remove dirt, hair, and other debris with each lick of your tongue. Cats groom themselves to regulate their body temperature and stimulate circulation. This routine evenly distributes natural oils throughout your cat’s hair, keeping it silky smooth.

Researchers recently discovered how vital papillae were to grooming. Researchers Alexic C.Noel and David L. Hu explained how papillae work. The “scoops” in the papillae absorb saliva and distribute it on the fur closest to the skin. This allows cats to clean difficult-to-reach fur and provides more effective cooling methods.

Health and Wellness

Their tongues also reveal your furry friend’s health. Normal cat tongues are pink, dry and free of excess saliva. You should be aware of any changes to your cat’s tongue, such as:

  • White patches
  • Swelling
  • Inflammation
  • Sores and cuts

These unusualities could indicate more serious health problems. Drooling is very unusual behaviour in cats. It could indicate an underlying condition. Contact your vet immediately if you notice any unusual behaviour on your cat’s tongue.

Cat Tongue Cuteness

It doesn’t mean your cat has a problem if its tongue hangs out. Arnold Plotnick DVM, Catnip magazine from Tuft University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, writes that most cats’ tongues hang out for benign reasons. This is one of many cat “quirks.” Sometimes cats don’t remember to put their tongues back in their mouths after grooming. These situations are great for funny cat photos. Research at Indiana University has shown that watching cat videos can have “emotional benefits” and that this enjoyment is carried over to looking at cute kitten pictures.


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