Catching your cat sticking her tongue out in the midst of a nip-filled dream is adorable. And rare. As rare as finding a drooling pot of gold waiting at the end of a rainbow.
The internet has graced these pictures with their own name: blep. And “blep” is a pretty good word. It might as well be the sound of a cat tongue that sticks out and never sticks back in.
The adorability of the blep is one of the few things in life we can (almost) all agree on online.
But (here comes the grey cloud) if your cat’s tongue is hanging out like a couch surfer it stops being cute. It becomes an indication of needed medical attention.
How do you tell the difference? Well, that’s what we’re going to explore. Because every now and then we find Persephone using her tongue to scout for dust particles.
First, let’s start with the basics.
Why is my Cat’s Tongue Hanging out?
There are an array of largely non-threatening reasons for cats to stick their tongue out. And, as people (who eat—I hope) we can relate all too easily.
There’s Food Wedged Between Your Cat’s Teeth
Without kitty floss—or thumbs to brush their teeth squeaky clean—cats have to rely on whatever tactics they can to dislodge food. So they hang their tongue out, wiggling to dislodge leftovers wedged between any of their thirty teeth.
After all cats don’t chew their food. They swallow. Sometimes they eat too fast, which is how Miles ends up sharing his second-helping on the carpet.
But if you’re cat is sticking their tongue out after every meal it’s a sign it’s time to pay attention to your kitty’s dental health. Don’t ignore dental hygiene! (That applies to you too.)
Kitty dental hygiene is one of those easily preventable health problems (have you flossed lately?).
Tasting The Waters
Cats care just as much about texture as they do taste. So, like some people, they eat for both flavor and feeling.
If your cat’s tongue is hanging then they may just be enjoying the aftertaste of their meal. Or, more likely, he’s trying to rid of some nasty taste he picked up off the floor (hair, dirt, particles too tiny to classify).
That’s because cats have barbed tongues and anything that gets near them gets stuck to them.
But they shouldn’t need more than a couple minutes to dislodge whatever it may be.
A Relaxed As Zen Tongue
Cats can be so relaxed that their mouths naturally open, tongue flopping out as they dream of songbirds. When the jaw unhinges it’s a good sign that your cat has found their Zen.
Again, people also do this. Maybe you’re like me: someone whose mouth hangs wide while catching a few dreams. And in those instances, a kitty’s tongue may flop out.
This is the perfect guilt-free time to snap a picture.
Cat Tongue Probes the World
Cats may be sticking their tongues out because they’re investigating.
And this is called the Flehmen response (coined after the German verb flehmen: to bare the upper teeth). Many mammals use this behavior, including horses, tigers, and elk).
Here’s how it works for our feline friends:
Cats have a scent organ sitting on the roof of their mouth. It’s called the vomeronasal organ, and has ducts that travel to both the nose and mouth. As a kitty takes a deep breath, they open their mouths and a scent is detected by the tongue.
It often looks like a sneer or a grimace. Or, like they’re checking out their teeth before going to the dentist.
Most cats will close their mouths after inhaling. They’re moving their tongue towards the vomeronasal organ to collect the scent like a bee collects honey.
But some cats forget. Maybe because they’re so fascinated by whatever smell they’re processing. And therefore, the tongue hangs out for a perfect snapshot moment.
As always, a cat’s behavior can be lumped under a medical issue. And hanging-ten cat tongues are no different.
But remember, all behaviors can be viewed through the lens of a severe problem—which is why you should never try to self-diagnose, whether it be for yourself or your cat. Please remember this.
Also… almost all of the following has the added addendum, “See a veterinarian.” So, if you’re cat may fall under one of the following—you guessed it—see a vet!”
And now onto the possible health reasons your cat’s tongue is sticking out…
Cats don’t sweat like people. They have pores on their footpads (which is a silly place for nature to have selected but apparently it works well enough). Sweat is released through the cat’s paws to cool them down. It’s only when cats are very hot that they begin to pant.
Now in a situation where your cat is too hot, they may suffer a heatstroke. Take them to the vet immediately.
There are steps you can take to prevent heat strokes on hot days. And you should know them intuitively. One make sure your place isn’t hot as surface of Venus. Two, make sure your cats always have access to plenty of water.
And then on those days when it is exceptionally hot, pay attention to your kitties and ensure their acting more or less according to their personality.
An infection can cause your cat’s airways to tighten. In that case your cat is sticking their tongue out to open up their throats for a fresh breath.
Again, go to the vet. Infection may not be the only cause. Poison may end up doing the same thing. If you suspect your cat has been nibbling on a toxic plant or gotten into something they shouldn’t have, see a vet.
Yes, the severe loss of memory also affects cats.
A cat sticking their tongue out repeatedly is one of the possible signs of dementia
Feline stomatitis causes ulcers in your kitty’s mouth. That’s painful even to type.
Your cat’s gums and mouth will be inflamed as a result. They stick their tongues out because it likely hurts for their tongue to touch the ulcers.
Kitty Dental Issues
The problem with dental problems is that there are too many: caries, abscess, tooth decay, and gum disease to name a few. But we’re highlighting a couple below to watch out for.
The lesson to take away from all of them. Take care of your cat’s teeth!
If your cat has periodontal disease then their teeth are likely excruciating. And they’re sticking their tongue out to avoid touching sensitive areas.
To the veterinarian! Especially if your cats gums are bleeding.
Yes, cats are also prone to gingivitis. A bacterial infection that results from poor oral hygiene.
The discomfort of a chipped tooth may lead your cat to stick their tongue out.
If you also notice your once hungry cat foregoing food it may be an additional sign that a chipped tooth is the issue.
Older cats may be sticking their tongues out if they’ve lost some of their teeth. The bottom teeth help keep everything tucked in one place in a cat’s mouth. And if those bottom teeth fall out your cat’s tongue may be falling out with them.
Cat Sticking Their Tongue Out And Drooling
Cats do not drool casually. If your cat is sticking their tongue out and drooling they are likely in pain.
Drool means a cat can’t swallow, either because they’re unable or because they willingly refuse to swallow. And that most most likely means Periodontal Disease.
Ultimately, a veterinarian will have to diagnose your kitty’s issue. Do not role play at being a vet—unless, of course you really are one. Otherwise, you may leap to a conclusion that seems plausible but doesn’t hold up under a professional’s discretion.
Fascinating and Fun Cat Tongue Facts
We don’t want to end this on a sour note. That’s no fun. So since we’ve been talking cat tongues let’s wrap up with some weird and strange cat tongue facts.
1. Cat tongues are rough because they have papillae: basically backward-facing barbs. And these tiny tongue-teeth help kitty’s clean meat from their prey, as well as being a handy aid when grooming. Unfortunately, anything latched on to by the barbs will end up in your cat’s stomach. Therefore, hairballs.
2. Ever notice your cat cleaning themselves after lapping up a bowl of food? Instinct tells them to do so. Can’t have any other predator’s in the area sniff a hint of their meal. Nor does the cat want to become prey for some larger animal.
3. Cats also groom themselves to keep cool through evaporation. What do you know?
4. A cat’s tongue is speckled with less taste buds than human tongues. This is typically why cats don’t cry for sweets. Isn’t it also weird how much we (humans) crave sweets? I could really go for some dark chocolate…
5. And finally—what I think is the most interesting for last…
Cats drink water by manipulating physics. (Cat-scientist is a meme that’s closer to the truth than the joke lets us think.)
First, a cat will curl the upper-portion of their tongue downward. Then, lightning-fast, they swipe it across the bowl, shooting up a column of water. Cats close their mouths before the water can collapse back into the bowl. It’s a race between inertia and gravity, and typically the cat wins.
And there you have it. The cat tongue stuck out and captured for the perfect Instagram blep.
We hope this helped clear up any questions you have about the elusive cat tongue. If there’s anything we missed or you would like to know more about please let us know!