Why Do Cats’ Tongues Feel Like Sandpaper

Why Do Cats Tongues Feel Like Sandpaper

Should your cat ever choose to lick your hand, it is not a pleasant experience. Whereas a dog doing so is like a sloppy wet kiss, a cat licking the hand is like it ran a sheet of sandpaper across your skin. This texture has evolved to serve a number of useful functions which we will take a closer look at.


The papillae on your cat’s tongue are the most obvious and striking physical distinction between its tongue and the tongues of other animals.

The thin, backward-facing structures that line the cat’s tongue are called the lingual papillae, and they may be seen if you take a close look inside the mouth of your cat when it yawns.. While grooming, your cat may use these small hooks to remove any stray hairs from its coat.

Papillae are not the same thing as taste buds; nonetheless, your cat does have taste buds, just not a lot of them. Cats have a fraction of the number of taste buds that humans have, and none of those taste buds can perceive sweetness.


Cats spend roughly 25% of their time grooming themselves, in an effort to reduce fleas and hair that has become loose. This grooming is essential if the cat is to avoid accumulating debris that could tangle and potentially cause infection.

Cats groom themselves alot!

The papillae are made of Keratin, which is the same material that makes human fingernails. They are approximately 2 mm long and have a scoop shape on the tip.

During grooming not all the papillae come into contact with the fur. Just those at the back of the tongue serve that function. The ones towards the tip do not make contact with the fur being groomed. Scientists have used advanced photography to follow what happens when a cat grooms.

  1. The cat extends its tongue from its mouth.
  2. The tongue muscles expand the surface of the tongue and rotate the papillae so that they are vertical.
  3. The tongue runs through the fur, collecting debris.
  4. The tongue forms a u-shaped curl and retracts into the mouth

Cat Saliva

Remember I mentioned that the tips of the papillae were shaped as a scoop? Well these are full of saliva. The saliva carried from the mouth has an interesting role in keeping the cat cool.

Even though the physical quantity of saliva is infinitesimal. Approximately 5% of the cat’s total saliva sits on the cat’s tongue.It serves to cool the cat, in the same way as human sweat. 25% of the total heat that a cat needs to shed during a day is lost this way.

A significant number of cat breeds live in hot countries, and this ability to shed heat is a crucial tool for cats dealing with high temperatures.

The final part of how saliva operates with cats, are the enzymes that the saliva carries. These enzymes help the grooming by releasing chemicals that dissolve some of the debris like blood that is found in the fur.

Scraping Meat off Bones

Yet another task that the papillae carry out is to scrape meat off the bones when they are eating prey. Clearly this is not an essential requirement for the average house cat, but your cat’s wild ancestors would find this invaluable.

The Tongue Assist the Cat to Drink

Yet another benefit of the unique design of the cat’s tongue is the way it helps the cat drink. Researchers at MIT did some research into this and using high speed video, they discovered the process by which a cat drinks.

Whereas a dog dips their tongue into a liquid and shaping it like a ladle they scoop up the drink, frequently splashing it everywhere, cats have a far more refined technique.

The tip of the cat’s tongue is extended until it just brushes the surface of the liquid and then instantly withdraws it into the mouth. As it pulls away from the liquid it pulls a column up towards the mouth. The cat nips off the top of this column and retains the water in the mouth. Not even the cat’s chin gets wet.

Why Do Cats & Dogs Have Very Different Tongues?

There has to be a reason why these two common predators developed very different tongues. It turns out that it is connected to the lifestyle they each have developed. The cat has evolved as a solitary hunter, hunting at night .

Many cats are also small enough to be prey if discovered by a larger predator. One way they may be discovered is by their scent. Cats have placed great emphasis on their ability to thoroughly groom themselves using the papillae, and thus reduce any scent.

Dogs, however, have evolved very differently and are a pack animal, hunting in strong groups, or at least their ancestors, the wolves, did. This alternative approach to hunting means grooming is not so important, and consequently they never developed the same kind of sandpaper-like tongue as a cat.

One Final Reason For The Coarseness of a Cat’s Tongue

You may not know this, but newborn kittens cannot urinate or defecate on their own. The kittens rely exclusively on their mother to use her tongue to lick the kittens genital zone several times every day.This action stimulates the tiny kitten so that they automatically poop or pee. This is a useful thing to remember if you have an orphaned kitten. To replicate the action of the mother’s tongue, you will need to rub the area with a pre-warmed damp cloth.


We have seen in the article that there are several answers to the question: why do cats’ tongues feel like sandpaper? The tongue of the cat has evolved to carry out a range of specific tasks required for the cat to thrive. These tasks include grooming, drinking, care of their young, and scraping meat off bones.

What seems to be a very simple organ is in reality a very complex tool engineered to perfection, and perfectly tuned to the needs of the cat.

Related Questions

Is it normal for a cat to have a scratchy tongue?

As you can see from the above article, it is not only normal, but essential to the lifestyle of the cat.

What are signs of an unhealthy cat’s tongue?

If the tongue of your pet cat is not bright pink, and perhaps is another color, like dark red, blue, purple, or gray, then you should take you cat to a veterinarian asap.

Why does a cat tongue turn black?

The cat may have been licking up hairballs, or eating a food that causes discoloration. It could also be a sign thatthere is an infection, or the cat has not been drinking enough.

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