Cat tongues – Pet tip 114
Why is it that whenever your cat licks you, it feels like sandpaper grinding against your face? There are specific reasons why the cat tongue has developed this way that allow for it to have many functions. To begin with, take a moment to observe a cat grooming itself. Cats tend to groom themselves quite often, and the tongue is an essential grooming tool. There are pointy structures that come off the surface of the tongue that look similar to hooks. The hooks flop towards the back of the mouth, and are covered with a hard substance called keratin (what your fingernails are made of). So, when your cat gives you a kiss with the best intentions, it may hurt your face and cause you discomfort because these hard hooks on the tongue surface are scratching you. It is this quality of the cat tongue that makes it comparable to a human brush. Just like a brush a person uses to comb their hair, the cat tongue allows the fur to be groomed more thoroughly than a dog tongue would. A dog tongue does not have these hard pointy knobs, so it is not capable of detangling the fur.
Keep in mind that although the cat tongue is incredibly effective as a grooming tool, the cat does not always utilize this usefulness. Overweight, ill, or even just a complacent cats may not groom themselves enough in all areas to prevent long fur from becoming tangled. It is your job as the cat’s caretaker to brush its fur; if not to keep it looking sleek and shiny, then as a preventative measure against hairballs.
As a result of being such an efficient grooming tool, the cat tongue also has some pitfalls. Imagine the brush you use to detangle your hair with; in what seems like no time at all, a substantial amount of hair will gather in the brush. The same problem occurs with cats. The cat tongue is almost too good at combing its fur. When the fur comes off, it sticks to the tongue, which usually results in the cat swallowing the fur. As you can imagine, if there is enough fur swallowed this can cause serious problems! A build-up of hair can accumulate in the cat’s intestine, which it will hopefully be able to vomit up as the ever-popular hairball, or pass it in its stool. If your cat has ceased defecating, it may be unable to pass a hairball that is stuck in the intestine. Surgery or laxatives, as suggested by your veterinarian are possible options to solve this problem. To prevent medical problems associated with swallowing of fur, groom your cat often, especially if it is long haired. This will remove much of the dead fur and undercoat of the cat.
The cat tongue is truly amazing. Not only for grooming, but also it is important to the cat’s sense of taste. Some cats can be very finicky eaters, as their very sensitive sense of smell affects their sense of taste. Their perception of the palatability of a specific food can be affected by changes in their environment, temperature of the food, texture of the food, and other factors that we may not even be aware of. The pointy spikes on the cat tongue also help with eating, as they ‘grab’ onto the food and prevent it from slipping off the tongue and out of the mouth. This is beneficial when the cat is eating food. However, when the cat licks string, ribbon, or something it is not supposed to eat, it may become stuck to the tongue resulting in the foreign object being swallowed.
In addition to eating, the cat tongue is specially designed as a drinking utensil. Basically, cats have a spoon built into their mouth! When drinking, the tongue can be fashioned into a spoon-like shape to allow for the feline to lap up water. Moreover, the tongue is also used when the cat is stressed or hot to dissipate heat.
Truly evolved to suit a cat’s needs, the tongue is a multifunctional tool that you should appreciate for its intricacies, even if it does feel like sandpaper when your cat gives you a lick.