Cat saliva is secreted in response to the smell and sight of food (my cat also goes to the toilet before eating her fish!). Excessive production – cat drooling – is a sign of mouth disease.
As for all species, the cat’s mouth masticates food and mixes it with its saliva. It is the first stage in bringing “food into the body”1.
It serves as a lubricant, making chewing and swallowing easier and more efficient. It also dilutes some of the food making it more tasty. It’s primary purpose is to pre-digest food before the stomach finishes the job. it is an alkaline solution (higher than neutral pH).
However, cats swallow bites of food with little chewing. A cat’s teeth as more efficient at holding, killing and tearing prey than chewing it.
The cat has four main salivary glands draining saliva into the mouth, one of which can be felt “below the cat’s ear at the back of the cheek”2.
Cat saliva is responsible for human cat allergies – please see Cat Allergen Fel D1.
Cat saliva does a lot more that just pre-digest food, however!
Warming and Cooling
Cats groom with teeth, legs, tongue and saliva. The grooming process acheives more that simply removing particles from the surface of the fur.
Licking the fur also helps to keep it smooth. Smooth fur is a better insulator for the cat than ruffled fur as it is better at trapping the warm air around the cat’s body; keeping the cat warm in winter.
Saliva also keeps the cat cooler in summer. Cats don’t sweat. When a cat licks its fur the cat saliva gradually evaporates thereby acting in the same way as sweat, cooling the body through the scientific principle of the latent heat of evaporation. We can help to keep the fur smooth. Cat Grooming with GROOMIT and KONG ZOOM GROOM.
Saliva also allows our cat to obtain its daily dose of essential Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important as it promotes bone growth, regulates Calcium and Phosphorus and supports the immune system. When a cat licks its fur it ingests Vitamin D which has been produced by the action of sunlight on the fur. Cats groom more in the sun.
A form of displacement therapy (an action which diverts attention from something that makes the cat feel uncomfortable) is licking fur. Another is licking the nose. You will see the latter quite often. When cat licks its nose it is a sign that it is unsure and thinking. Observing this can help us interact with our cats better. (please see cat body language)
A cat will also lick fur to taste his or her human companion who has just touched or stroked her. This is comforting for the cat; a bonding and communication process.
When grooming a cat will sometimes nibble its fur. This is the process of tugging and disturbing the hair, which stimulates the secretion of oils from the hair follicles. This oils the fur and makes it more waterproof.
When we stroke our pets they particularly like it when we touch those areas that cannot be reached by them (e.g. under the chin). Stroking a cat is an act of licking from the cat’s standpoint.