Black cat in tree licking his lips

Teasing, Tasting or Taunting: Why Do Cats Stick out Their Tongues?

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Have you ever seen your cat stick its tongue out for no apparent reason? This is just one of the funny and puzzling things that cats are prone to do, and you may be asking yourself why the heck they do it! Sure, it’s cute to see that little pink tongue come out, but you want answers.

It usually happens while Furball is sleeping. Or perhaps while he’s gazing out through the window. There are probably about 25 pictures on your instagram feed highlighting this phenomenon, but in this article, we’re going to answer the burning question as to why.

There are a number of reasons why your cat turns the cuteness on in this way. Most of the reasons are simple and instinctual, whiles others are a little more perplexing and a bit disturbing. Unfortunately, sticking out the tongue can be an indication of an undiagnosed medical condition. So, let’s explore both the good and the bad, so that you’ll be a much more knowledgeable cat parent.

Why the Tongue?

Teasing, Tasting or Taunting: Why Do Cats Stick out Their Tongues?

Okay now, don’t start panicking that your cat is sticking out its tongue because it is sick. We’re going to begin by exploring the non-alarming reasons why this might be taking place.

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Taste and Texture

Often times, a cat will get something stuck in its mouth and it wants to explore the taste and texture of that thing. In order to fiddle with the texture, the cat might stick the tongue out and then retract it, exploring with its mouth.

Not only do cats love the taste of things, but they’re super into texture. Maybe your cat has some hair in the mouth, or a lingering aftertaste from something that they just ate. Perhaps there’s a foreign object in their mouth and they’re doing some exploration.

No matter which of these is the case, this is one of the most natural things that a cat can do. Call it an oral fixation, if you must. But cats love to play with things, and this is often done with their rough and sensitive tongues.

Loosened Jaw

Teasing, Tasting or Taunting: Why Do Cats Stick out Their Tongues?

The other common reason why your cat might be sticking out its tongue is when they have a loose jaw. The jaw of your cat will loosen when they are sleepy or sedated, just as your jaw does! Think about how sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and your mouth is open, a little drool on the pillow. This is natural.

When your cat is super relaxed, the tip of the tongue often pops out and stays there. They don’t know that they’re doing it, nor how darn cute they look, but it’s just a physical reaction to being in repose.

Food in the Teeth

Another reason why your cat is sticking out its tongue is because there may be some leftovers in the mouth that is stuck in the cat’s teeth. If you’re one of those parents that neglects the dental hygiene of your cat, this could very much be the case. This can create a number of health problems, and lead to more serious explanations for why your cat is sticking its tongue out.

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Problematic Health Conditions

Funny-looking cat showing half his tongue

Okay, now we’re going to talk about the tricky stuff. It’s true that your cat may be sticking out its tongue due to problematic health conditions. Let’s explore some of the more severe reasons why this phenomenon is occurring, and if you suspect one of these might be the case, then it’s important to see the vet as soon as possible.

  • Dental Issues: Aside from stuck food particles, there are other dental issues that could be leading your cat to stick its tongue out. Should your cat have gum disease, tooth decay, abscess, or sores, it will create a bad taste in their mouth that causes them to stick out the tongue.
  • Senior Dementia: Just like humans, cats get dementia. One of the hallmarks of senior dementia in cats is the inability to keep the tongue inside of their mouth. If you have an older cat, be sure to take note of this.
  • Infection: Inflammation and infection in the cat’s mouth can cause them to stick out the tongue. Such problems to look out for are lesions, periodontitis, and the like.
  • Stomatitis: This is the least common of the problems, but it’s still something to explore. It’s a severe health condition for felines, and it often causes them to stick out the tongue, lose appetite, and drool. Panting is another sign of feline stomatitis.

Should any of these conditions seem possible, it’s important to take your kitty’s health into your own hands and schedule an appointment with your vet. There’s no point in sitting around the house and fretting. Take action today.

The other thing to note is that it makes no sense to do a Google search to try and determine what’s going on. Only a qualified vet can come up with a proper diagnosis, so the sooner that you see a vet the better. With most of these conditions, they can be treated with proper intervention.

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Cat Tongue Facts

Cat provoking the cameraman by sticking out his tongue

Now that we’ve explored the issue, let’s take a look at some fun cat tongue facts so that you can learn more about your kitty’s biology. These will also help to explain why cats stick out their tongues.

  • Did you know that cats don’t have taste buds for anything sweet? That’s why your cat never tries to steal your bar of chocolate. Also, it’s terribly dangerous for them to eat chocolate in the first place!
  • Do you notice that your cat does a lot of licking and grooming? This is actually a bonding experience for cats, and they learn to do it from a young age. This kind of social grooming is only done amongst cats that know and like each other, so don’t expect the same behavior when the neighbor’s cat comes over.
  • Cats actually have barbs on their tongues which they use to remove the meat from bones. Did you think that their tongues were so rough just for the sake of removing loose hair? You would be wrong. The barbs of a cat’s tongue are incredibly strong for this reason.
  • The barbs of the cat’s tongue are covered with something called a keratin sheath. This sheath is very strong, as you may imagine, and it’s the same sheath that is found in human nails. This explains the sandpaper feel of your cat’s kiss.
  • The cat’s tongue is not only for taste and grooming, it’s also for survival. Grooming often takes place after a cat has hunted or enjoyed a meal. The reason for this is because it erases the scent of evidence of what they’ve done. This keeps cats safe in the outdoor world, but indoor cats still do it from instinct.
  • Cat tongues flip 4 times per second when they’re drinking water. The swift movement creates a flow of water into the cat’s mouth from the water source. This action is necessary when you can’t just pick up a glass of water and chug it down.

Aren’t cat tongues fascinating! No doubt, you were surprised by some of these fun cat tongue facts. If you have kids in your home, be sure to share these little tidbits with them, because kids benefit from knowing more about their furry friend that lives in the house.

Do Cats Smile?

Cat sleeping with a smile on his face

Now that we’ve explored cat tongues, it brings up an interesting question: can cats smile? It seems like all cats are grumpy, does it not? In fact, cats have a reputation for being independent, distant, and sometimes positively evil. That’s certainly not how we think of dogs, but is that merely because dogs are able to smile?

We hate to tell you this, cat lovers, but cats aren’t able to smile. Sure, you love your pet and know that they are happy and love to play, but the doggy version of smiling is merely not possible for cats. You may protest and say that you’ve seen your cat smile on occasion, but it’s all delusional.

Smiling is actually not a natural part of the animal kingdom. But humans get a kick out of thinking that their pets are smiling, because then it makes them more like us. But in truth, your dog may make expressions that look like a smile, yet it’s simply not a smile. Downer.

In reality, cats have actually evolved to not show emotions because it helps them to survive in the wild. The best way to get a read on how your cat is feeling is through body language. When you notice the “slow blink” in your cat, this is actually the closest that you’re going to get in terms of a smile.

Cats close their eyes slowly and reveal only the smallest portion of their pupils. This body language indicates that the cat is content. When you scratch your cat’s head or stroke their chin, you’ll see this kind of contented eye contact.

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Now that we’ve explored what makes a cat stick its tongue out, it’s time to take a lot of pictures and upload them onto Facebook to celebrate this delightful phenomenon. If you’re not one for social media, simply watch it with your own two eyes and smile to yourself. It’s damn cute.

Product data was last updated on 2019-12-12.

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