Whether you’re a cat lover, a dog lover, or both, you’ll probably agree they’re different. One of those differences… their kisses. Because cats have unique tongues.
They feel like sandpaper.
That’s because a cat’s tongue is covered in backward-facing papillae—barbs made of keratin, the same substance as human fingernails.
That sandpaper tongue serves several purposes, particularly for an outdoor cat or a cat in the wild.
1) Grasping and pulling meat from the bones of its prey
The little hook-like structures on the tongue give the cat a good grasp on the meat of its prey. This enables them to pull the meat from the bones very effectively.
2) Collecting dirt, debris and loose hair from their fur
Cats groom themselves endlessly. In fact, they spend more than half their waking hours on grooming. That prickly tongue will catch anything on the fur that’s not supposed to be there
If you don’t groom them regularly, all the loose fur they lick up can lead to hairballs.
And those barbs, they’ll latch on to anything collected on the tongue. Even something unintended for consumption.
Because the barbs face toward the throat a piece of yarn, string or tinsel in their mouth can be dangerous. They’re not able to just spit it out. When not in licking mode, the spines lay flat. And the cat will swallow these dangerous items.
Cat tongues are designed for intake only.
3) Detangling knots
In a single swipe, a cat’s tongue moves in 4 different directions. Because the spines are hook-like, the tongue acts like a flexible comb that snags on knots and teases them apart. A handy grooming tool…
4) Removing parasites
When your cat is grooming, their tongue removes anything in its path, including parasites and their eggs.
5) Maintaining their ability to ambush their prey and hide from their predators
Cats are ambush hunters. They will use extreme licking to hide their smell so they can go undetected by their prey allowing them to pounce before being noticed.
They will also lick every remnant of a fresh kill off their fur to avoid detection by their predators.
6) Waterproofing fur
The sandpapery tongue helps redistribute oils produced by the cat’s skin to provide some waterproofing.
7) Cleaning wounds
When a cat licks a wound, the barbs will get into the wound and clean out dirt. And the saliva contains compounds that are antibacterial.
But a cat can go overboard and turn a tiny abrasion into a big lesion—and a big headache—if they lick themselves raw.
Necessity is the mother of invention—no truer words exist when speaking of adaptations in the animal kingdom.
Do you remember your reaction the first time a cat licked you? Share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.