Friday, 19 July 2019

Why do cats have rough tongues?

It’s Stick Your Tongue Out Day! On a day when we celebrate the freedom of being able to stick your tongue out at will, we thought it would be fun to take a closer look at cats’ tongues. Not the edible chocolate variety but the tongues that belong to our pet cats.

longhaired tabby cat with tongue sticking out

What are they and what do they do? A tongue is a muscular organ with multiple uses. It is very important and has a range of serious jobs to do. For cats, tongues play a vital role not just when eating and drinking but are also an essential part of their personal grooming kits.


A multi-use tool for cats 


Depending on how close you get to your cat you may have noticed that their tongue is not soft and delicate, as you might expect, but is actually rather harsh and scratchy and can feel like sandpaper being dragged across your skin if you are lucky enough to be subjected to a quick groom.

tabby cat with mouth open and tongue showing

The reason a cat’s tongue is so rough is due to all the backwards facing spines (or papillae) that run along it. These papillae have all sorts of fantastic uses. They are great for stripping meat from bones, allowing them to extract the maximum nutrition from their prey in the most quick and efficient way. They are also responsible for the ingenious way that cats drink. Rather than putting their whole mouth into water, cats put their tongue in the water and lift it up and down very quickly. The papillae on their tongues pull water up from the surface, creating a column that the cat then closes their mouth around.

The purrfect kitty hairbrush 


The slightly less obvious use for a rough tongue is that it makes for the perfect hairbrush. When a cat uses their tongue to lick their fur they are, in effect, brushing themself. The backwards facing positioning of the spines on the tongue act like a comb as they pass through the fur, detangling and cleaning away loose fur and dirt as they go. A very effective way of self-cleansing!

grey and white cat with tongue sticking out

Being self-sufficient and able to keep clean without help is very important when traditionally, as a non-social species, cats would not have lived within a social group and so could not rely on a pack member to do the honours.

So the next time your cat yawns or starts to groom in front of you, take a close look at their tongue and marvel at this most ingenious and useful tool which nature has designed.

For more information about cats and grooming, visit www.cats.org.uk/grooming

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