Cats are majestic and entertaining, but there are plenty of curious things about them.
From their adorable little toe beans to their weird tongues, there are endless things to love about them.
However, that tongue gets a lot of questions. It's rough and spiky, and you either love it or hate it when it licks you.
But – why are cats’ tongues like that?
If you want to learn about it, keep reading. We’ll go through everything you need to know right here.
Why Do Cats Have Rough Tongues?
If you would like to know why cats have rough tongues, and a little information about said tongues, just keep reading! There’s a lot to cover.
What A Cat’s Tongue Looks Like?
Cats’ tongues are like regular tongues – except they have backward facing spikes, or filiform papillae.
If a cat has even licked you, you probably know that it might not be the most pleasant experience.
You don’t need to see when to know that they are there, one lick is enough for most people.
If you’ve ever spent some time looking at your cat’s tongue, these spikes are actually pretty easy to see.
They’re white, and run across the entire tongue. There is nothing delicate or soft about them, because they’re there to get a job done!
This sounds like some kind of nasty weapon, but it has two very important uses, which we will go through below.
Do All Cats Have Rough Tongues?
Yes, all cats have rough, spiked tongues – even the big ones! You can expect to see these backward-facing spikes on your local house cat, cougar, and even lions and tigers.
All of these cats have the same uses for their special tongues.
What Do Cats Use Their Rough Tongues For?
A cat’s rough tongue has four primary uses: grooming, air conditioning, drinking, and stripping the meat from bones.
Let’s take a look at each of these points one by one to get a better understanding of them.
First up - grooming! If you know any cat, you already know that they spend a lot of time grooming themselves.
The backwards-facing spines on the tongue of a cat act like the ideal hairbrush for them! As they lick through their fur, they are combing it.
This gets rid of all the tangles and mats that might be hiding in there.
Of course, this tongue also collects fur and any kind of debris, which explains hairballs that cat owners will be well aware of already.
Since cats are typically solitary animals, meaning they don’t live in groups like many other animals, self-sufficiency is key for them.
As such, being able to properly and effectively groom themselves is crucial for their health and wellbeing.
Because they don’t traditionally have a pack of house cats with them, they need to get the job done themselves!
Built-in Air Conditioning
Grooming isn’t the only use for these tongues. As you will know, not all cats live solitary lives! Look at the lion, which lives in a pride.
In the heat of Africa (and Asia), another important use for these tongues is air conditioning. The spines on these tongues are hollow, and gather saliva as the animal grooms.
When a cat licks their fur, saliva is released onto the fur and skin, which results in the fur getting wet.
The moisture will slowly evaporate, which will cool the animal’s coat surface.
When this happens, a temperature gradient is formed, and heat actually moves away from the animal’s body surface.
This is crucial, as cats are only able to sweat through acres of their body that are hairless (like their paw pads).
As such, this method of air conditioning is very important for these animals to regulate their body temperature, especially when temperatures can reach 120 degrees F!
Stripping Meat From Bones
The third use for these tongues is for stripping the meat from bones. This can apply to all kinds of cats, because they’re all hunters at heart!
Since these animals need to get as much nutrition from their prey as possible, they need to get all the meat they can.
Their rough tongues are strong and muscular, and those spikes are able to clean bones very easily.
Imagine being out in the wilds of Africa as a leopard, and you’ve just killed an impala.
Leopards are solitary animals, and their biggest threats are lions, hyenas and baboons, especially after making a kill.
They need to eat their kill and fill themselves as much as possible.
Sure, they are able to drag their prey up into the trees to shield it from prying eyes and claws, but it doesn’t always work. Being able to strip meat from bones is crucial.
This might sound a little obvious, but cats need those spikes to drink effectively, too! They have a special drinking method that turns the water into a column.
The water will get caught on the spikes, then get pulled up by the momentum of the tongue’s movement.
When the water is in the air, the animal’s mouth will close around it. It’s a pretty handy method, right? And not one that many other animals have.
Why Don’t Dogs Have This Feature?
Dogs are pack animals. This means that they can depend on each other for their grooming needs, and don’t usually have to rush with their meals too much.
Overall, grooming for dogs just isn’t so important, so they have the regular old smooth tongues.
Next time you’re around your cat, and they yawn, take a moment to peer inside their mouth and check out that tongue.
Those little spikes, and small and insignificant as they seem, are one of these animals’ biggest secret weapons.
Because of those little spikes, your cat can keep themselves clean, drink effectively, cool themselves down, and make the most out of their meals.
It’s all pretty impressive when you stop to think about it.
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