Your Cat’s Tongue

What does your cat’s tongue feel like? Sandpaper? Little pins? Unlike a dog’s tongue, a cat’s tongue has some very special features.

A cat’s tongue has a special area in the center. In the center of your cat’s tongue are papillae — little hooked, hair-like growths that face towards the back of the mouth. These strong hooks are made from keratin (the same stuff found in human fingernails).

What are papillae used for?

  • Self-grooming. The hooks help clean and separate the cat’s fur. This doesn’t mean your cat won’t appreciate some help with grooming sometimes! Brushing your cat can help remove dead skin and loose hair — and help prevent hairballs.
  • Holding food. The hooks can help gather food into the mouth.
  • Hunting. The hooks can help hold struggling prey in place.
  • Taste. Special mushroom-shaped papillae at the tip and along the sides of the tongue hold large taste buds. Another set of cup-shaped papillae sit at the back of the tongue.

Thanks to this very special tongue, a cat has a keener sense of taste than a dog does. Studies have shown that a cat’s tongue reacts to flavor AND to texture. This may be one of the reasons that dry cat food comes in a variety of shapes. The tongue is also sensitive to temperature — studies have shown that many cats prefer food served at room temperature over warm or cold food.

When a cat drinks, the tongue takes on a spoon-like shape. If you watch closely as your cat drinks, you may see her dip her tongue into the water several times before swallowing. The way a cat’s tongue dips under the water is similar to how an elephant curls its trunk. The cat’s tongue is a very sophisticated muscle!

Still, with the scratchy feel of the papillae, I’m kind of glad that most cats don’t demonstrate affection by licking the way dogs do!