Cats have all sorts of cute and peculiar behaviors. But I think seeing the little pink tip of cat tongue sticking out is one of the cutest and most peculiar. Especially when she just seems to be staring into space.
This spectacle even has its own slang name now – blep. Search on twitter with #blep for a feast of adorable cat tongue tip photos.
- But why do cats stick their tongues out?
- What does it mean?
- Should we ever be concerned about it?
- And why does it always make me laugh when she has that look?
In this article we’ll answer these questions (well, maybe not that last one).
First, let’s take a closer look at our cat’s tongue.
Your Cat’s Tongue
Your cat’s tongue is the perfect tool to aid in eating, grooming and maintaining general health.
Unlike your tongue which is relatively smooth, your cat’s tongue is covered with little barbs called papillae. These are stiff spines that curve backwards to snare hair and bits of food.
If you’ve ever been licked by your cat, you know the feeling of their rough, dry tongue. This is because the spines are covered in keratin – the same substance your nails are made of.
No wonder it can get quite painful when your cat keeps licking you on the same spot.
Cats are particular about grooming because in the wild, any trace of scent from their food is an invitation to other predators.
When grooming, the papillae collect all the bits of food and loose hair.
Once something such as a bit of food or hair is snagged on the barbs, it is difficult for a cat to release it from his mouth.
Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongue Out
Think about when you get a hair in your mouth.
You can use your lips (or your hands) to remove it, but a cat’s paws don’t help much in this department.
A cat’s tongue is designed to pull food and hair back into the mouth.
The tongue doesn’t allow a cat to spit anything out. They can only swallow and this is why they get hair balls.
If your cat is trying to loosen something unsavory or uncomfortable from his mouth, you may see him darting his tongue in and out.
But why do cats stick their tongues out sometimes for seemingly no reason?
Cats sticking out their tongues randomly
Your cat stops in the middle of what she’s doing and stares into space. Her tongue sticks out and maybe she has a grimace on her face.
This usually lasts just a few seconds and doesn’t seem to faze the cat at all. Then, when it’s all over, she forgets to pull the tongue right back in and you get that cute blep.
here is actually a good scientific explanation for this goofy behaviour and it’s called the Flehmen response. It’s part of social behaviour in many animals and is used to pick up chemical signals.
The Flehmen response happens when your kitty is curious about something – she’s busy analysing some interesting scent she’s picked up. The scent is collected in the mouth and the tongue flicks it up into a special organ called the vomeronasal organ.
This action is used in nature mostly for picking up on pheromones (sex hormones) of other cats. But cats will also use it for other interesting smells – like your dirty clothes
Scientists believe these chemical cues even play a part in helping cats to feel secure in their environment.
Cat Sleeping With Tongue Out
When your cat is completely relaxed, he may loosen his jaw just enough for a little tip of the tongue to stick out.
In the same way you might see involuntary twitching while your cat sleeps, you might see the little tongue fall out of his mouth while he’s enjoying his shut eye.
Your cat can also give you a tongue tip treat when she relaxes while you’re petting her.
Cats who have flat faces, with less space in their mouths, might stick their tongues out more. Or old cats with missing teeth.
A relaxed cat sticking their tongue out is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. But let’s have a look at when you should be concerned about when cats stick their tongue out.
Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongues Out Repeatedly?
When your cat is sticking his tongue out repeatedly, he may be trying to get a bad taste or food that doesn’t agree with him out of his mouth.
While it’s normal for a cat to try and get something unpleasant or hurtful out of his mouth, it is not normal for it to last more than a minute or two.
If you see this behavior, check for sores or something stuck in the cat’s mouth or teeth. A kitten could even act like this while it’s trying to loosen a baby tooth. If the mouth is free of any lesions or blockages, this behavior shouldn’t carry on.
Particularly in older cats, repeatedly darting the tongue in and out or the inability to keep the tongue in the mouth may be a sign of dementia.
This should be addressed with your cat’s veterinarian, but you can also read more about it here.
Do you have a cat that sticks its with tongue out?
Your cat’s tongue is designed to trap food and hair which makes it very difficult for him to rid his mouth of anything unpleasant.
Cats are susceptible to dental disease, heat stroke, poisoning, motion sickness and other diseases and infections which may cause them to stick out their tongues.
Your cat sticking her tongue out now and then, followed by a blep, is endearing and quite normal. It provides a good opportunity for a social media photo op.
A tongue sticking out for a while with excessive drooling, or the inability to retract the tongue properly, should be addressed with a health care professional.