It’s no secret that cats are amazing pets. However, sometimes they do weird things that leave us scratching our heads in confusion.
One of these unique behaviors is the “tongue treat”, in which cats pop their tongue out. But have you ever asked yourself, why do cats stick their tongue out? Read along so you can find out.
Today, we’ll be explaining everything surrounding this behavior. Additionally, you’ll learn what to do if your cat starts doing it.
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Top 9 Reasons That Make Your Cat Stick Its Tongue out
There are a lot of different factors that can get your feline buddy to give you the tongue treat. Whether it’s extremely common or one of the rarest reasons, you should find it in the list below.
1. It Might Be More Random Than You Think
The first and one of the most common reasons for it is that your cat might be doing it out of pure spontaneity. Your cat would be minding its business, but all of a sudden, it stops and starts staring into space.
When they do that, they stick their tongue out, and maybe with a smirk on their face. They don’t seem disturbed or fazed at all while doing that. This action lasts for a few seconds.
But, sometimes when the cat stops, it becomes more comfortable than we thought it was. So it forgets to pull its tongue right back in, leaving us with what is commonly called a “bleb”.
A cat that’s blebbing out means it has picked up a smell or a taste, basically exploring the world around it. In fact, there is a good explanation for this cute and bizarre behavior, and it’s known as the “Flehmen response”.
This behavior isn’t only common within cats, but it’s also found among other animals, such as dogs, llamas, camels, and others. These animals use it to pick up various chemical signals and might do it a bit different.
This goofy response occurs when a cat is curious about any stimulant it picks up. The cat collects the scent or taste in its mouth, then starts to flick its tongue to analyze it. The scent is then transferred to a special organ called the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson’s organ.
Jacobson’s organ is named after the Danish physician, Dr. Ludvig Levin Jacobson, who discovered it in the early 1800s. He explained that this organ is linked to parts of the brain to explain and pick up the smell.
Cats use Flehmen response to pick up pheromones of other cats. Pheromones are animal scents that are used for communication and mating between them. However, cats can pick up various scents around the house too.
In a recent study, it was found that domestic cats feel stressed if they don’t analyze these different smells. With all the exploring they do, they might end up forgetting their tongue sticking out.
2. There Might be Something Sticking to Your Cat’s Tongue
Have you ever wondered why it gets painful when a cat keeps licking you? Unlike our relatively wet and smooth tongues, cats’ tongues are dry and rough. The reason behind that is that their tongues are covered with multiple tiny spines or barbs called papillae.
These barbs are also directed towards the back of their mouth. Additionally, all these spines are covered with a strong sheath of keratin, which is the same substance that our nails are made of.
Cats use their special tongue in a variety of ways. They use it as a perfect tool to help them while eating. Additionally, they can use it to clean and groom themselves and maintain their general health.
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It’s highly essential for cats to groom their bodies and remove any remaining bits of food on it. That’s because any remaining food can alert other predators or prey to their existence.
If you have any food between your teeth, you might use your tongue or your hands to get rid of it. However, a cat’s paw isn’t long enough to pull off such a task. That’s why it depends on its tongue instead.
While your cat is grooming itself, other things might get caught on those hard spines, such as tiny hairs. Usually, when your cat is done grooming, it collects all these tiny hairs into a hairball and spits it out.
Sometimes, a few stubborn hairs decide that the cat’s tongue is a perfect place to hang around. The cat would try to remove them or spits them out. But, all these trials go in vain.
In that case, the cat’s tongue becomes tired. As a result, the frustrated cat sticks its tongue out to dry, hoping for any passing wind to remove these hairs.
3. It Might Be Trying to Get Rid of a Bad Taste or Smell
A hair doesn’t have to be the only thing annoying your cat and it wants it out. In addition to physical things like hair, the cat might be trying to get rid of a bad smell or a taste that has been lingering after a meal.
In this case, the cat will stick its tongue out and pull it back in repeatedly. It’s normal for such behavior to last for a minute or two. However, if you find that your cat spends more time doing this, you should investigate it a bit more.
Check for anything that might be stuck to your cats’ mouth or teeth. If it’s a kitten, this may be an indicator that it’s trying to loosen its baby tooth, just like our toddlers!
In older cats, this behavior can be a sign that your cat is suffering from dementia This might be a sign that it’s time to pay your cat’s vet visit.
4. It Might Be a Bit Too Relaxed
Have you ever seen someone who sleeps extremely comfortable after a busy day that he forgets his mouth open? This might be the case here!
If your cat is having a great nap, its jaw muscles might get too relaxed that it can’t hold its tongue inside. In this case, you may find the tip of its tongue hanging out of your cat’s mouth.
A relaxed cat with its tongue out should be nothing to worry about, especially when it’s only the tip. You can observe this more while your cat is sedated, so don’t panic.
5. It Might Be Due to Some Dental Problems
If you find your cat sticking its tongue out with some drooling, you might want to check its mouth a bit more. This drooling might be natural or due to dental or periodontal disease.
Periodontal or gum diseases are among the most common health problems in cats. They affect about 70% of all cats by the time they’re 3 years old.
Just like humans, cats can get a build-up of plaque on their teeth. This plaque eventually hardens into dental calculus, which is called tartar. This causes inflammation in the gum tissue due to bacterial infection.
This is known as gingivitis, which then worsens to damage around the soft tissue of the teeth. When the bacteria reach the root of the teeth, they cause a dental abscess.
This causes multiple symptoms such as tooth decay, pain from touching the injured area, and chipped teeth.
This pain doesn’t have to be in gums only. In other diseases, such as feline stomatitis, the cat suffers from ulcers and inflammation in the soft tissue in the mouth.
Feline stomatitis causes drooling (might be bloody) and bad breath. You’ll also notice that the cat doesn’t groom itself because it becomes severely painful.
Due to these painful inflammations, cats might feel uncomfortable to keep their tongue inside. In that case, you would see your cat sticking it out and drooling. If you notice any of these symptoms on your cat, you should visit your vet immediately.
6. It Might’ve Lost a Tooth
In addition to dental health problems, your cat might’ve just lost some teeth, especially the front ones on the upper or the lower jaw.
These teeth are the ones holding the cat’s tongue in place. If the cat loses this barrier for any reason, its little tongue will start slipping out. This also calls for taking your cat to the vet.
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7. It Might Be Due to Overheating or Thirst
While sticking a tongue out is usually something that you shouldn’t worry about, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for any other symptoms.
Similar to dogs, cats can cool themselves down through their footpads and tongues. But, many people don’t notice that because cats don’t pant as much as dogs.
On a hot day, this behavior can range from your cat being thirsty all the way to overheating and suffering a heat stroke.
While on a hot day with high humidity levels, you might find your cat sticking its tongue out for some time. A cat does this to regulate its body temperature through the tongue.
However, this mechanism isn’t as effective in some thick-hair cat species such as the Himalayan or Persian cats.
Additionally, you could notice that after long runs or when they’re having a fever. The regular temperature of a cat’s body is between 100.4º to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38 to 39.2 degrees Celsius).
If you find your cat’s rectal temperature exceeding these numbers, this means that your cat might be at risk of heat stroke.
In addition to the raised temperature, you can notice some more obvious symptoms such as losing their balance and vomiting. If you find your cat suffering from these symptoms, you must take your cat to a place with shade and plenty of water.
Whether your cat cooled down a bit or not, you should take it to the vet as soon as possible. Heat strokes can cause organ failure, so it’s critical to perform a check-up to make sure that your cat is fine.
8. It Might Be Suffering from Motion Sickness
This is one of the least common reasons. If you notice that your cat is sticking its tongue out while in car rides, this might be a sign that your cat has motion sickness. Just like us, cats can suffer from it too!
Unlike humans, cats’ main reason behind motion sickness is anxiety and stress. This is more common with cats that are unfamiliar with traveling in a car. If they get dizzy, they might lose the ability to keep their tongues inside.
9. Your Cat Might Be Suffering From Poisoning
One of the rarest reasons that make cats stick their tongue out is poisoning. Cats are extremely curious creatures who like to walk to the beat of their own drums. However, this sometimes gets them in trouble.
This can happen for a variety of reasons. For example, a cat might come in contact with detergents, household cleaners, or insecticides. Moreover, a cat might get poisoned by preying on a poisonous animal like a frog.
Of course, tongues sticking out isn’t the only thing you’re going to see. There will be a lot of drooling, vomiting, and difficulty in breathing.
They usually stick their tongue out in an effort to get rid of that irritant as if it’s a bad taste. It might also be due to mouth inflammation if they consumed a caustic material.
Having any more questions? Here’s an answer to the most commonly asked questions regarding this topic.
This can also be a part of the Flehmen response. The cat opens its mouth to extend its ability to pick up the surrounding scents.
If you discover a dental problem at a very early stage, you might want to pay more attention to your cat’s diet. Switching to a specialized dry food formula like Hill’s Science diet and oral care can help in reducing plaque and tartar buildup in cats.
While you’re cooling down your cat, you might allow it paddle in some room temperature water. However, the water shouldn’t be extremely cold with ice, as it might cause other problems.
Cats never fail to amaze us with their heart-melting and cute behaviors. However, it’s essential to make sure that they’re perfectly fine doing them. if you can’t put your hands on why do cats stick their tongue out, you should seek professional help from your cats’ vet.
I’ve been living with cats since 2008 and I can confidently say I have more feline friends than humans lol. I currently live with 5 cats in different life stages; two of them are less than one year old, one is 2-ish years old and the oldest two are 9-ish years old. I’ve developed a strong bond with cats over the years and I’m eager to share my experience through this blog. You can learn more about my cats here.