14 benefits to cats through the use of their tongue

The feline tongue is a wonderous element of their anatomy. It can achieve a lot, thanks in part to the backward facing papillae made of keratin attached to the upper surface. These spines do a lot. Here is a list of 13 benefits to the cat when using their tongue.

The column of milk is lifted into the air by the tongue's backward motion. The milk is moved by the tongue and it continues to move as it is pushed into the air and thence to the mouth. It is not laddled up.
The column of milk is lifted into the air by the tongue’s backward motion. The milk is moved by the tongue and it continues to move as it is pushed into the air and thence to the mouth. It is not ladled up. It is kicked up into a column of milk which overcomes gravity. Screenshot.
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Cat's tongue showing backward facing papillae of 2 types
Cat’s tongue showing backward facing papillae of 2 types

RELATED: 2 different types of backward facing papillae on the domestic cat’s tongue

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The tongue achieves the following:

  1. Collects water from a water bowl. Cats don’t do this by cupping the water in their tongue (which it looks like) but by a very clever action which involves the physical property of inertia. You can read about this very sophisticated method of drinking by clicking on the link above.
  2. Grabs food from their food bowl. The backward pointing spines on their tongue help to grab the food and pull it into their mouths in combination with their front teeth.
  3. Allows the cat to penetrate their fur when grooming themselves so that the papillae of the tongue make contact with the skin to stimulate the sebaceous glands and remove dead skin and fur. Flea combing feels the same to cats which is why they normally like it (shorthaired cats).
  4. Maintains the coat in good condition
  5. Removes cat fleas from their fur. This is a natural byproduct of grooming themselves. The problem with this is that they ingest the flea and in doing so they ingest the eggs of the tapeworm which are inside the flea. This is how domestic cats acquire tapeworms. The cat flea is part of the tapeworm life-cycle.
  6. With the tongue, the cat deposits saliva on their fur. This evaporates and in doing so, through the physical property of the latent heat of evaporation, it cools the body when the ambient temperature is hot. And so, the feline tongue can be used as a form of temperature control.
  7. When depositing saliva on their bodies with the aid of their tongue, it is argued that they remove the scent of a person who has just petted them. The alternative reason why domestic cats lick the place where they have been petted is to taste the scent of their owner. I prefer the former explanation. There are 2 other potential reasons – please click on the link to read about them πŸ˜Žβœ”οΈ.
  8. Self-grooming is a pleasurable experience. It feels good to them and the tongue is part of the reason why it feels good. For this reason, self-grooming is a form of self-help therapy which can help to control stress and reduce it. This is why symmetrical self-grooming causing baldness on the easy to access belly is a symptom that the cat is experiencing chronic stress i.e. over a long period of time. Action should be taken to remove the source of the stress. One commenter calls this “displacement grooming”. They mean that it displaces the feeling of stress with the feeling of something nice.
  9. We often see mutual grooming between two cats. This is called allogrooming. Self-grooming, by the way, is called autogrooming by the experts. Mutual grooming is very important to cats who are friends with each other because it helps to cement the bond.
  10. Mutual grooming between cat and person. When a person pets their cat by stroking them with their hand, this can stimulate a response in the cat which mimics the petting i.e. the cat licks the person’s hand or arm. This is allogrooming between cat and human. Its purpose is the same as for between cats.
  11. The papillae on the tongue help to minimise the development of matted fur. In some purebred cats their fur is unnaturally long. In these cats, such as the contemporary Persian, they are unable to maintain their coat to a sufficient standard and the owner has to intervene to help. The problem originates in extreme selective breeding.
  12. It is argued that when a cat self-grooms they improve their circulation because the spines of the tongue massage the skin. This is probably linked to the fact that cats lick an injury
  13. Cats lick injuries to help displace the pain and help to sterilise the wound as saliva has an antibiotic effect. Cats’ saliva has antiseptic, antibacterial, and healing properties but bacteria also live in their mouths. This can be detrimental if the wound is over-licked
  14. The tongue’s spines help to rip flesh from the bone. This is more important for the wild cats
  15. And lastly, a negative. When a cat feels ill or is struggling to survive, they don’t groom themselves as much and their fur looks unkempt. This is a sign that a cat is struggling both for want of food and health. They need help.

Can you think of a fifteenth reason? Please comment.

Bone Bone the celebrity cat is stressed
He is stressed because is he overgrooming his belly so much he has removed the fur. Photo in public domain.

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