fbpx Skip to Content

Why Do Cats Have Rough Tongues?

Why Do Cats Have Rough Tongues?

Sharing is caring!

Everyone loves a kitty kiss every once in a while! But tongues feel like…well…sandpaper.

You might have noticed their tongues are prickly and rough. After a while, those kitty kisses are not very comfortable.

So, why do cats have rough tongues? Read on to find out why something so soft and cuddly has such an un-soft tongue.

Anatomy of Cat Tongues

What makes a cat’s tongue have that rough feeling are these tiny little structures called papillae.

“Papillae” are raised, backwards facing bards. These little barbs are there to help your cat groom themselves (and sometimes others), as well as assist them in removing the flesh of any tiny critter that falls prey to them.

Cat’s Use Their Tongue Like a Hairbrush

Think of these barbs like bristles on a brush. Who among us hasn’t watched our cat meticulously groom themselves? Cats are very diligent groomers.

Their tongue acts as a hairbrush to remove debris and dirt that build up on their coat. That dedication to grooming is deeply rooted in the essence of being a cat.

Cats Are Both Predator & Prey 

Cats can be both predators and prey. This has lead to some strange grooming habits.

When it comes to the cat as a predator, those little barbs on their toungues help them hold their prey and get the muscle and flesh off the bones. Their tongues function to get every little piece of meat off of their prey.

Cats Use Their Tongues for Potection

After cats eat, they want to remove all traces of their feast from their body. In order to avoid being prey, cats groom themselves carefully in order to remove any trace of dirt, debris, or loose hair from their coat that a predator could smell.

Any bits of prey that are still on the cat can be smelled by other predators, so after eating, cats will groom themselves and use their rough tongue to remove all traces of their last supper. Or else they could become another animal’s supper!

Uh-oh – Hairballs! 

Cats can use those rough tongues of theirs to their detriment. When a cat grooms itself, the hair and debris that it’s cleaning from its coat gets stuck to its tongue.

Generally speaking, anything that gets stuck to a cat’s tongue is going to get swallowed. Swallowing all that fur from grooming can lead to your kitty coughing up hairballs.

**WARNING – DANGER** The papillae on a cat’s tongue are also why it’s dangerous for your cat to play with yarn or string.

Anything string-like can easily get stuck to a cat’s tongue and then lodged in their throat or intestines, so be very careful to keep your knitting supplies out of reach of kitty.

Some Cats Need Your Help Grooming

Cats with longer hair need some human help in maintaining their coat, keeping it from getting matted, and making sure nothing gets stuck in there that their tongue can’t get out. S

ometimes cats can even over-groom themselves, causing bald patches. If you see your kitty overly licking themselves, it could be a sign your cat is anxious or stressed. If this happens, you should see a veterinarian immediately.

SURVEY: Do You Consider Cats Family?

Your opinion matters!

  • Please provide your email address to complete survey.

Cats Groom Each Other

Cats also use those tongues of theirs for what’s called social grooming. If you have a multi-cat household, you may have seen your cats grooming each other, which is totally normal behavior. In fact, it’s cute!

Cats Can’t Taste Sweetness 

Fun fact: cats can’t taste anything sweet! The reason for this is because cats have fewer taste buds than humans. Different types of taste buds associated with different tastes. Cats don’t have the type of taste buds that detect sweetness.

Tasty Doesn’t Equal Healthy 

Sometimes we see cute videos of cats eating ice cream, but this is not advised. Just because a cat shows interest in eating something does not mean it is good for them. Contrary to popular belief, dairy is not part of a cat’s diet and can give them tummy problems. If you want to spoil your cat, have them indulge in some cat treats instead.

RELATED: 8 Human Foods Poisonous to Cats

RELATED: What is the Best Diet For Your Cat?

Cat Tongues Act as Drinking Cups

A cat’s tongue also helps them drink. For a long time, people wrongfully thought it was the barbs on the tongue that helped them do this. However, this is incorrect.

A recent MIT study showed that cats are really just masters of time when it comes to drinking. They draw up the water by flicking their tongue in the water rapidly. This is unlike dogs, who actually scoop up the water with their tongues.

The researchers filmed cats drinking in slow-motion and then analyzed it frame-by-frame. They found that cats can lap up water at an alarming rate of 4 laps per second!

Check out this slow-motion video of a cat drinking water! It’s amazing.

** STORY TIME** I used to have a cat that would sit on my lap every day and wash a particular part of my arm with her tongue. It felt a bit creepy at first, but I got used to it. Maybe kitty thought I had a few hairs out of place!

Cats are such fascinating creatures. The more you learn about them, the more you’re amazed by all their incredible skills! Who knew that their tongues had so many purposes?

QUESTION: Does your cat ever try to groom you or give you kisses with their tongue? Leave us a comment and tell us how it felt!

Get the best cat stories in your mailbox!

Sharing is caring!

Barbara Thieman

Thursday 21st of March 2019

Almost every time she gets in my lap, she licks me..arm,neck, leg. She also bites me and it hurts???


Wednesday 20th of March 2019

Yes. a couple of times a day. They also like to wash my chin. Every once in awhile Precious with give me a love bite, where he definitely holds my thumb for 30 seconds ad lets go