White cat showing his tongue

On the Tip of the Tongue: Why Do Cats Blep?

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If there’s one thing everyone can agree on in these turbulent times, it’s that cat pictures are the best thing the internet has to offer. Most of us follow at least a few cat picture accounts on social media, and through them, we’re exposed to a dazzling array of the funniest, cutest, and most heartwarming cat imagery available on the worldwide web.

One popular favorite subject on such accounts is the blep. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, the word “blep” refers to the adorable habit many cats have of sticking their tongues out just a little bit. Some cats do it while they’re sleeping, but others do it while they’re awake, and in both instances, it’s a funny and endearing sight.

A blep tends to make a cat look surprised, and more than a little silly. The appeal is obvious given the sheer number of people who make it their mission to capture these magical moments with their cameras. But why do cats do it?

This article will reveal the elusive origins of the blep.

The Blep: Your Questions Answered

Cat blepping
Cat blepping

According to one cat consultant, the blep may be the result of a phenomenon known as the Flehman response. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry — we hadn’t, either!

Most people know that snakes flick their tongues to “taste” the air around them. This ability allows them to navigate through the world, detect prey, and pick up on signs of danger.

What fewer people realize is that cats have a similar ability, and the Flehman response commonly precedes it. It’s a rare sight to see a cat pant, and when it does, that’s often a sign that it’s too hot and trying to cool off. But it can also be a sign that a cat is collecting pheromones via the vomeronasal organ on the roof of its mouth.

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This is a common occurrence when a cat is sniffing out another animal. It’s a way for it to take in more information about its environment than is readily apparent just from looking. And the Flehman response often occurs in conjunction with it.

It’s not exactly a blep, but to the undiscerning eye, it looks an awful lot like a blep. The main difference is that in the Flehman response the tongue appears active, whereas with a genuine blep it just hangs there.

There’s another less interesting but more relatable explanation for why cats sometimes blep. Most of us have probably experienced something similar at one time or another: side effects from medication.

You know how when you go to the dentist to get a cavity drilled, your face is numb for the rest of the day and sometimes does silly things without you realizing it? The same is true for cats.

Cute cat blepping

If a cat has a teeth cleaning, an abscess removed, or another medical procedure performed on its mouth, the resultant numbness may cause an involuntary blep to occur. Likewise, pain medication or anti-anxiety medication may have a similar effect. Your cat might just become so chilled out that a blep is the delightful result.

Sometimes medication doesn’t need to be a factor for a blep to occur. If a cat, particularly an older cat, has lost teeth or had teeth extracted, the tongue can sometimes slip out simply because there’s nothing left to contain it within the mouth.

This is especially true if a cat is missing one or more teeth from its lower jaw. These teeth, particularly the canines, help keep the tongue contained, and their absence can allow the tongue to flop out.

With this in mind, if you’re aware that your cat has dental problems and you catch it blepping regularly, it’s not a bad idea to take it in for a vet visit to make sure whatever’s happening isn’t causing it pain. Cats are highly adept at masking signs of pain or illness, so sometimes behavioral changes are a pet owner’s only cue that something is amiss with their cat.

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More often than not, though, the blep is a harmless occurrence. It’s sometimes even a breed-specific occurrence. Flat-faced cats are uniquely prone to blepping, because their shallow mouths mean there’s less space for them to contain their tongues.

Beautiful white cat with light blue eyes blepping

Likewise, if your cat happens to have a long tongue, it might hang out even if it has a mouth with average dimensions.

Other tongue-related hazards can lead to blepping, too. We all know cats’ tongues are rough and sandpapery due to being covered in papillae: tiny barbs that assist them in grooming themselves. Sometimes these barbs can be a little too effective at their job.

When this happens, it’s possible for a cat’s hair to get stuck in the papillae, especially if the cat is a long-haired breed like a Persian or Abyssinian. When that happens, it’s not uncommon for a cat to leave its tongue hanging out purely due to the discomfort of having a long stray hair stuck to its tongue.

If you own long-haired cats, it’s a good idea to be attentive when they start blepping, just in case they’re having a hairy situation they need your assistance to resolve.

There are other situations when a blep can be a reason for concern. One of those times is if it’s exceptionally hot out. As mentioned above, it’s rare for cats to pant the way dogs do, but if you catch your cat panting, you can bet that it’s uncomfortably hot and trying to cool itself off.

Even if you don’t notice panting, a tongue sticking out may mean that your cat has overheated and is trying to cool down. If it’s summer, if you live in a warm climate, or if you have a cat with an especially thick coat, it may need some help cooling down if you notice its tongue out.

On the Tip of the Tongue: Why Do Cats Blep?

A good rule of thumb is that if it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your cat, too. Make sure that cool, freshwater is available at all times, and that your cat has a cool, dark place to retreat to under these circumstances. (Many cats favor the bathtub because the porcelain interior is nice and cold, and the bathroom is usually out of direct sunlight!)

We don’t want to cause undue concern about bleps, though, so now is a good time to be reminded that sometimes they happen. Not for any medical or behavioral reason, but because cats are silly and not always aware of what their bodies are doing.

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Have you ever interrupted your cat during a meal? Or while it was grooming itself? And it gives you that surprised “how dare you” look?

That look is often accompanied by a blep. It’s a blep that means “You stopped me while I had my tongue out, and I forgot to put it back in my mouth.” In light of how poised and dignified cats usually like to appear, it’s all the funnier.

My Cat is Blepping: What Should I Do?

Cat blepping while rolling in grass

If you have the good fortune to catch your cat performing the elusive blep, you have a few options.

The first and least exciting is to leave it alone. Let it go about its business and pretend you didn’t see it. But where’s the fun in that?

If your cat is blepping in its sleep, you have some other options. Some truly bold pet owners have been known to gently grasp the blep in between their thumb and forefinger and pull it out just a tiny, tiny bit.

It’s crucial to emphasize that you must be extremely gentle if you attempt to extend the blep any further. You don’t want to hurt your cat by yanking on its tongue (and we would never recommend you do so), and you also wouldn’t want to disturb your cat to the point where it wakes up and the magical moment is spoiled.

But by far the best option is that you pull out your phone and record this blessed event for posterity. Take a few pictures or a video so everyone can appreciate the beauty of the blep.

Do you have a dedicated cat photo account? If not, now might be a great time to start one. If not, there are tons of social media accounts whose moderators will gladly accept images of your cat’s blep for all to admire.

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The blep isn’t the best part of having a cat, but it’s certainly one of the cutest and most endearing. We hope this article has satisfied your curiosity about why bleps occur and perhaps even motivated you to learn some more about cat behavior. Above all, we hope it has given you a reason to fill your life with more funny cat pictures.

Do you have a cat that likes to blep? Leave a comment and tell us about it, or upload a photo so everyone else can appreciate it. The internet is for sharing cat pictures, and everyone must do their part. 🙂

Product data was last updated on 2019-12-13.

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