There's nothing quite like the sandpaper sensation you feel when your cat licks you. It's your first clue that there's something incredibly different about a cat's tongue.
The cat tongue is an amazing organ. It has many uses and purposes that truly make it unique. Discover surprising cat tongue facts and see why it's like your pet's Swiss army knife—multifunctional and useful.
1. Your Cat's Tongue Is Covered in Barbs
No, your cat's tongue isn't made of sandpaper. The reason the tongue is so rough is that it's covered in tiny barbs called filiform papillae, which are made from keratin (the same material fingernails are made from). These barbs face toward the cat's throat and help push food in that direction for swallowing.
Cats use these barbs to scrape meat from bones when they eat.
2. It's Nature's Purr-fect Grooming Tool
The tongue's rough texture is perfect for grooming. As the cat licks, loose hairs and other debris are caught on the barbs and removed from the coat. Unfortunately for your cat, this can also lead to the formation of hairballs if you don't brush your pet to remove loose hair often enough.
Since the loose hairs are gathered by the barbs and directed toward the throat, the cat winds up swallowing them. They collect in the stomach and form undigestible masses that can lead to blockages if the cat doesn't cough them back up.
3. Cat Tongues Have Limited Tastebud Sensitivity
If your cat is a picky eater (and what cat isn't finicky?), it's likely their tongue is to blame. A cat's tongue isn't very good at discerning flavors because it doesn't have many tastebuds. It's largely insensitive to salt and sugar. Instead, cats seem to be attracted to the texture of particular foods on their tongues.
4. The Tongue Tests Food Temperature
Speaking of finicky, cats aren't fond of extremes, especially when it comes to their food. Overall, they tend to prefer foods at room temperature, and they use their tongues to test whether food is too hot, too cold, or just right. Neat, right?!
5. Bathing Produces Evaporative Cooling
Ever wonder how your cat can appear cool as a cucumber when it's 90°F and 99% humidity? Cats actually use their tongues to cool off by grooming themselves. As they lick, the moisture left on the fur produces an evaporative cooling effect, similar to sweating in humans.
6. Cat Tongues Lap Water in a Unique Way
One of the most amazing cat tongue facts of all is how cats use their tongues to drink. Unlike dogs that tend to slop water all over when they drink, cats are dainty drinkers because of the way they use their tongues.
A cat simply touches the tip of their tongue to the surface of the water and then quickly pulls it back up. This creates a column of water that the cat quickly closes their mouth around to trap inside just before it would naturally succumb to gravity and fall back into the dish.
Since a cat laps about four times per second, this works out to a rate somewhere between four and five teaspoons of liquid consumed per second.
The Best Thing About Cat Tongues
Of all the things cats use their tongues for, showing affection is the one that has the most positive effect on their humans. Kittens learn about licking from their mamas, who lick them as they care for them.
When your cat licks you, they're showing you they care for you, and this is a generous expression, since many felines tend to be somewhat aloof (shocking, right?). Remember that and realize how lucky you are the next time you feel that rough tongue bathing the back of your hand.