9 Adorable and Fascinating Facts About Your Cat’s Tongue


With their sandpaper barbs and ability to taste things humans can't, cat tongues are unique! Summer shares 10 fascinating facts about them.

We cats have tongues that are pretty special! If your cat tries to groom you, or gives you affectionate sandpaper licks, you already know that. But there’s lots more to kitty tongues. So let’s take a look.

  1. Cats lick you with their barbed, sandpaper tongues for many reasons. They will lick you as a sign of affection. They may want to groom you, like they would with any feline family member. They may think your hand, arm, or face tastes good! Or they could be marking you, as a cat’s saliva is one of many ways they leave their scent.
  2. Those barbs are also more complex than you may have known!
    They are called papillae. These little pointy spines are curved and hollow, and made of keratin. This design does an amazing job of grabbing loose fur, dirt, and even tiny critters like lice. They also are able to deposit extra saliva on their fur in a way that maximizes cleaning.
  3. Yes, big cats also have barbed tongues.
    Of course they do, considering that one of the most important purposes of the papillae is to effectively clean meat off of bones. And with bigger tongues come more papillae…and more!
  4. Cats have a hard time spitting things out because of those backward-facing papillae.
    That’s why we wind up with hairballs sometimes. And it’s also easy for something like string or ribbon to get tangled up in those barbs, which is why you need to be careful about what you leave lying around the house.
  5. Cats use physics to drink water!
    A surprising amount of research has gone into the way cats drink water. It turns out that the front tip of our tongues just barely touch the surface of the water we’re drinking. Then we raise it at lightning fast speed to create a liquid column. So fast, in fact, it creates inertia, defying gravity for the water to reach our mouths. House cats do this at the speed of four laps per second. Big cats (lions, tigers, etc.) do it at a slower pace because of their larger tongues.
  6. Cats can’t taste sweet.
    Most of you know this, but you may wonder why we still enjoy things like whipped cream, or one of my favorite treats, cantaloupe. Just because we can’t taste sweet, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other aspects of sweet food we find appealing. Like, say, the creaminess of the whipped cream, or the non-sweet elements of a fruit (the taste is more complex than just sweet).
  7. On the other hand, research has indicated that we have a taste receptor humans don’t!
    It’s called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP works at the cellular level as a source of energy use and storage. And apparently it has a flavor.
  8. You can check up on your cat’s health by examining their tongue.
    A healthy cat has a pink tongue. But if it’s coated, pale, bluish or yellow, or if the cat is drooling or sporting a tongue ulcer, take them to the vet right away. A blue or yellowish tongue could be a medical emergency, indicating heart or respiratory distress (blue) or a liver problem (yellow). A pale tongue could mean anything from anemia to kidney failure.
  9. Lastly, we can touch our noses with our tongue.
    That’s something I bet you can’t do, if you’re a human!

Somali cat touching her nose with her tongue

Did you enjoy these cat tongue facts? Which did you find the most fascinating? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

Here are more fascinating facts about us kitties:

9 Adorable and Fascinating Facts About Your Cat’s Tongue


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