Why Are Cats’ Tongues Rough? Find Out Here!



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If you have ever owned a cat, they’ve likely tried to groom you at least once!

If so, you may have been surprised at the sensation of the cat’s tongue, which isn’t dissimilar to wet sandpaper – a far cry from the textures of a dog’s tongue or our own.

Why Are Cats' Tongues Rough? Orange tabby cat licking its front legs.

This is because a cat’s tongue features what’s known as ‘papillae,’ which are backward-facing spines (thick-textured hairs). The purpose of these spines is to help a cat when they clean themselves, as well as to help them extract nutrients from certain foods (namely when stripping meat from the bones of their prey) and lap up water without it flicking everywhere!

Cats’ Tongues: A Breakdown

Most of us who glimpse our cats’ tongues when grooming may notice that they look almost hairy.

As mentioned above, the ‘hairs’ on a cat’s tongue are called ‘papillae’. Papillae, like normal hair, is predominantly made up of proteins, including keratin. And these strange-looking tongue spikes aren’t exclusive to domestic cats. Their wilder cousins, such as cougars, bobcats, tigers, lions, and snow leopards, also have papillae on their tongues.

These short spikes are backward-facing and work comb-like when the cat uses them in motion.

Why Are Cats’ Tongues Rough?

Let’s delve further into the magic and mystery behind cats’ bristly, scratchy tongues.

Cat Grooming

Cats’ tongues are effectively mini brushes because they rely on them to keep their coats pristine and clean. A happy, healthy cat will have a brilliant, shiny coat that smells nice and fresh – their sandpaper-like tongues play an essential role in this.

The papillae on a cat’s tongue help remove dirt and groom its fur because it helps store and distribute what’s known in the cat world as ‘wicking saliva,’ this gets into the deeper parts of the coat, near the skin. Wicking saliva also acts as a comb to remove any loose fur.

Cats spend almost a quarter of their day grooming, which may seem vain. However, regular attention is needed to help prevent matting in the fur and a build-up of dirt and dead skin cells on their skin. In addition, out in the wild, papillae help wild/stray cats remove fleas from their fur. Nevertheless, flea treatment from your vet is still essential, as papillae cannot fully eradicate fleas.

Cats Are Meat-Eating Animals

It’s no secret that cats love meat and fish. Moreover, cats are omnivores and typically eat anything that smells good – they have a particular penchant for food containing bones.

Cats need the protein in meat to help sustain them; cats are natural and very adept hunters. Out in the wild, a cat’s papillae help them strip and shred meat from the bones of its prey.

Fear not – your kitty can still give you the occasional lick or groom attempt and not harm your skin!

Cats Like Keeping Warm

The distribution of saliva within the cat’s coat is also how they cool down and regulates its temperature. This is because cats only have sweat glands in their paws, so there’s no other way of maintaining their body temperature. As a result, their saliva helps them reduce their body temperature by as much as 25%.

Cats Flea Removal

In the wild, cats traditionally would have to ensure fleas without the help of various treatments designed for that purpose. The spikes on a cat’s tongue help to comb through the fur as it grooms itself, removing dust particles, dirt, fleas, flea eggs, and so on.

While papillae aren’t enough to ensure a cat is flea-free, they helped their wild ancestors and cousins from being riddled with bugs and permanently itchy and uncomfortable.

Why Are Cats’ Tongues Rough: FAQs

Is Cat Saliva Clean for Humans?

While cats’ saliva helps our feline friends stay clean and healthy, it’s best not to expose yourself to it too much. The occasional lick or quick groom attempt from your furry friend won’t cause any direct harm; cats’ saliva has two types of bacteria called Staphylococcus intermedius and Pasteurella multocida, which can be harmful to humans if it enters our bodies. Consequently, avoid letting your cat lick you anywhere the skin may be broken or sore.

Furthermore, cats use their tongues to wash their bottoms and their mouths to carry their prey – which isn’t overly hygienic for us, either!

Are Cats Dirtier than Dogs?

Cats are pretty particular about their hygiene and cleanliness and are happiest when their coats are as shiny, fresh, and pristine as possible!

Cats love to keep themselves clean – that includes their bathroom activities. So if hygiene and cleanliness are factors when adding a furry friend to your family, a cat may be the best option.

Are Cats the Only Animal with Rough Tongues?

Cats are not the only rough-tongued animals. On the contrary, there are quite a few other species with rough, jagged tongues, including geese, penguins, flamingos, and even certain reptiles.

Before you go, you may find these articles helpful:

What Does It Mean When Cats Lick You

Why Do Cats Loaf?

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