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As a cat parent, you've seen your kitty's tongue hanging out plenty of times. But why do cats stick their tongue out?
There are a few reasons that we'll explain here. This behavior could be symptomatic of your cat's health and wellness or just standard cat conduct. Read on to learn more.
Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongue Out?
A cat's tongue is a remarkable organ: It's necessary not only for eating, tasting and lapping up water but also for grooming as well as detecting and investigating new smells in their environment. Because their tongue is so integral to your furry friend's daily routine, you'll probably see it lolling out of their mouth at least once a day. Here are some of the activities during which cats usually stick their tongues out and why.
Eating and Drinking
A cat's tongue sticks out while they're eating or drinking because it helps to transfer cat food and scoop up water into their mouth. At the end of mealtime, they may use their tongue to loosen crumbs from their teeth. If you're bottle-feeding a newborn kitty, you'll notice kittens stick out their tongue to wrap around the bottle tip, notes International Cat Care, and their little tongue may just stay out after feeding. Just one of the many adorable things kittens do!
Cats' tongues may look endearing, but they're strong tools equipped with tiny, sharp barbs that give cat tongues their signature rough texture. These barbs remove loose hair and other debris off their fur. When taking a break from grooming, a cat may simply leave their tongue hanging out.
Why does my cat stick their tongue out while sleeping or relaxing, you may ask? They're in a total state of relaxation! Like their humans, when cats chill out, their muscles and joints loosen up, and this includes their tongue.
The Flehmen Response
After taking a whiff of something in the air, does your cat stick out their tongue and make a silly, scrunched up face with their lips curled back? The term for this behavior is the Flehmen Response. Cats have a strong sense of smell, and opening their mouth allows them to receive information based on what they smell in their environment. This "cat smirk" opens up their airway so the scent can transfer to their vomeronasal (also known as Jacobson's organ) on the roof of their mouth. This is how cats and many other animals "taste the air" to identify prey and predators, too.
Depending on the situation, a cat's tongue can also alert you to underlying health issues. Why do cats stick out their tongues when they're not feeling well? It's often because their tongue is directly affected by their health condition. Respiratory infections, for example, can cause a cat to stick out their tongue and pant. In addition, a senior cat suffering from dementia may have trouble keeping their tongue inside their mouth.
If your cat has their tongue out and is drooling, it may be indicative of a serious situation. Drooling is not a common behavior in cats, emphasizes Justine A. Lee, DVM at Pet Health Network, who lists the following as possible causes:
- Dental disease
- Kidney failure
- Presence of foreign bodies
- Other trauma (cuts and scratches)
There also are non-emergency reasons for cats to stick out their tongue and drool, notes Cat Health, such as right after feeding time. But, generally speaking, it's a sign that something isn't right. Contact your veterinarian or an emergency vet center right away to schedule an appointment if you notice your cat drooling.
The Cornell Feline Health Center points out that teeth and gum disease are quite common in cats, including gingivitis and periodontitis. Tooth resorption, a condition in which the tooth structure breaks down, is also common. Kittens, however, may use their tongue to move loose baby teeth around, which is a very natural reason to stick out their tongue. Brushing your cat's teeth and taking them in for regular vet dental checkups will help keep your cat's mouth and tongue healthy. Also, consider a cat food formulated for oral healthcare to help keep their mouth and teeth healthy.
As always, check with your vet with any concerns. Many times, in the absence of other symptoms, your cat is sticking out their tongue because they're calm and content, resulting in incredibly sweet cat photos to share with friends and family.
Christine Brovelli-O'Brien, Ph.D., is an award-winning writer, editor, and long-time cat mom. She's a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association (CWA) and has written for industry-leading companies and organizations, including What to Expect When You're Expecting and NIU STEM Read. Find and follow Christine on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien