Why Are Cats Tongues Rough?
Cats are cute from their head down to their toes. And that includes their cute little tongues as well.
Often, we only see cats tongues for a handful of reasons. Grooming themselves, drinking, and if you cat is really relaxed…sleeping.
So why do cats tongues feel so rough? Well they are for a couple of reasons. First, is for grooming purposes. For cats, grooming is a full-time job—many cats spend as much as half of their waking hours grooming.
Grooming serves a few purposes. When a cat “washes” their hair with their rough tongue, it helps remove dirt and loose hairs as well as reducing odors. Those odors prey and predators to her presence for outdoor cats.
Grooming also helps cats comb healthy oils from their skin to their entire coat. Cats will groom each other as a way of bonding with each other.
Amazingly, grooming with a rough tongue also helps cats cool their bodies, which we will talk about more later on.
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What makes a cat’s tongue rough?
If you have ever had your cat lick your face, you have felt that their tongue is not like a dog’s tongue. Instead of slippery and soft, it is often rough. But what makes it rough?
Cat tongues of all breeds and species are covered with tiny curved things called spines. Spines are made up of little bits of hardened keratin. Keratin is a protein that is found in hair, fingernails, and cat’s claws as well.
These tiny spines, also called papillae, have a shape and angle very similar to a cat’s claws, with their spiny shape curved backward so that they point toward the back of the cat’s mouth.
The spines move through a cat’s hair as they moves their head upward and pulls the tongue into their mouth. A lapping motion I am sure all cat owners have seen. These keratin spines act as a comb and keep your cat’s coat looking clean and neat.
Not only used for brushing, these keratin formations also serve another purpose other than to make your cat look adorable. These tiny spiny papillae are also used to shred meat and pick up food while eating.
So while they do act like a brush for your cat, a cat’s tongue is also used to help them hunt and eat their food when they were out in the wild.
Cat Tongues Are Also Air Conditioners
If you remember from earlier, we mentioned that a cat’s tongue can also be used to help cool them off.
Remarkably, when cats lick their fur, they are also cooling off their bodies. The spines on a cat’s tongue are hollow and the space inside each spine wicks up saliva from a cat’s mouth as they groom.
The saliva wet’s their fur with their tongue each time they lick, and the water on the fur evaporates, cooling the surface of their fur coat. It is literally like they are giving themselves a bath. But instead of using a towel to dry off, their water evaporates and cools off their winter coat.
Cats only sweat from hairless areas like their paw pads and chin, not from the rest of their skin, so this type of evaporative cooling through grooming is a really important way for cats to control their body temperature, especially with such thick and luxurious fur coats.
Big Cats Have Spiny Tongues, Too
As I mentioned earlier, cats of all breeds and species have this unique tongue structure. And that doesn’t just mean household cats.
The spines on the tongues of big cats like lions, leopards, and tigers, are the same size and shape as the spines on our little domestic cats’ tongues.
Fortunately, their larger tongues have a lot more of these spines—handy since lions have a lot more fur to cover with each grooming. The grooming behavior throughout the feline family looks almost identical.