Cats are pretty amazing and interesting creatures, and so are their tongues. Used for many purposes, ranging from grooming to affection, a cat’s tongue is like a Swiss army knife—multipurpose and adaptable to different situations.
It is also rough and scratchy, and although it can be unpleasant to the touch, the texture is not harmful to humans. Most people ask question why do cats have rough tongues. The answer isn’t simple and it is related to the 3 purposes cats use their tongues.
There are three main reasons why a cat’s tongue is one of its most important muscles: eating and drinking, grooming, and communicating. The tongue helps a cat in all these areas, so check out these cool facts about cat tongues and discover all you wanted to know about a cat’s coarse tongue:
1. Get the meat from the bones
A cat’s tongue is essential for eating. It is very rough, because the tongue is covered in thousands of tiny barbs called papillae which help the cat in a variety of ways. First of all, the papillae are hard and tough because they are made out of the same material as fingernails, called keratin. These tiny barbs face inward, toward the cat’s throat and are used for tearing, ripping, and chewing, as well as guiding the food down the cat’s throat. The papillae are a product of evolution, and work in the same way a hairbrush does. Even though, many cats eat food from a can or dry, bagged food, wild cats catch and eat meat right off the bone. Because cats are small themselves, they go after small prey, which means that every scrap of meat counts. The rough tongue is necessary in order to get all the meat from the bones. This is also the best-known explanation, to why do cats have rough tongues.
2. Test the food
The rough tongue texture also helps it to eat and drink in other ways as well. For instance, a cat’s tongue tests the temperature and texture of food. Most cats prefer food to be at about room temperature, so if food is too hot or too cold based off the testing of the tongue, she will not eat it.
3. Cats cannot taste salty or sweet foods
One of the most interesting facts, about cat’s tongues is the fact they cannot taste sweet or salty items. Cats are generally carnivores, so meat comprises nearly all of their diet. Cats have fewer taste buds than humans because of this evolutionary trait. This also means that your cat cannot taste sweet food or treats. That’s why they require special treats.
4. Laps up water
Cat’s tongue is uniquely designed to lap up water in an unusual way. It was once thought that cats lap up water by using the tongue as a tiny spoon or scoop. Now, scientists have discovered that a cat drinks water by quickly darting its tongue in and out and curling the end. The tongue will graze the surface of the water, then quickly dart back up, which forms a column of water. The cat will drink this column before gravity pulls it back down. So a cat’s tongue helps it lap water by defying gravity! However, a cat’s tongue does more than just help it eat. It is also for various types of grooming too.
5. Cleans the fur
Essential to grooming, a cat’s tongue is basically like a giant dish rag. Just as the papillae help scrape all the meat off prey, those tiny barbs also help scrape all kinds of dirt and debris off a cat. As stated above, tiny barbs on a cat’s tongue act like a hairbrush; but because the barbs are directed toward their throat, the cat will simply swallow the stray hairs the tongue picks up. (However, a cat cannot digest hair. This is why they cough up hairballs.) By licking themselves, cats groom for many reasons, including for survival or for comfort, and sometimes in response to agitation.
6. Removes the blood after fresh kill
Grooming for survival is also an evolutionary trait; because cats are small, they can be both hunters and prey themselves. After a cat had killed and eaten its prey, it would lick itself all over to remove any and all traces of blood from its fur. This was to ensure that it did not attract predators. Furthermore, it did not want to attract the notice of other potential prey in the area by the smell on its fur. In other words, a cat’s rough tongue is essential to its survival in the wild.
7. Reduces the body temperature of a cat
Cats use their tongues to groom themselves in order to comfort themselves and others. One way it does this is by using its tongue as a cooling tool. When a cat grooms itself, it also cools down by evaporation. The moisture transferred from its mouth to its fur will evaporate, leaving the cat in a cooler temperature. (Sweating in humans has a similar effect.) This is also why some cats do not bathe themselves as regularly in the winter than in the summer.
8. Causes bald spots
At times when a cat is stressed, it will over-lick itself, leading to bald spots. Cats can have compulsive behavior, just as humans do. Because grooming releases endorphins, the “happy” chemical in the brain, cats cope with external stressors by grooming; sometimes, too much. This is called psychogenic alopecia. It is extremely important to take a cat with bald spots to the veterinarian in order to determine the source of its stress.
9. Cats tongue may say ‘’I love you’’
Cat’s tongue is essential for communication. Licking is one such form of communicating with humans and other cats. When a cat licks a human or another animal, it is showing affection and love. Although, humans don’t like that licking due to the fact the tongue is very rough, all cats do this when they are happy and satisfied with their owners. An interesting addition is the fact cats can lick dogs as well, although dogs don’t appreciate this.
10. It sucks the fur in the digestive system
The least known answer to the question, why do cats have rough tongues is related to the fur. As aforementioned all cats like grooming. However, they cannot spit the hairs and dirt, so they have to swallow it. Due to the fact they cannot digest hair, cats form fur balls. When they get big, a cat uses the rough tongue to remove the fur balls.