Why Are Cats Tongues Rough And How Does That Help?

The sensations that you get when your cat licks on your hand must have surely triggered the thought that why are cats’ tongues rough but that doesn’t feel the same when it’s your dog licking. However, this is just an incidence of the cats displaying their exemplary anatomy. If you think that this roughness is there just like that, you need to continue reading as we are going to present some extremely interesting facts about the tongue of cats that will explain why are cats’ tongues so rough.


The uniqueness of the cat tongue

why are cats tongues rough

Pets licking humans is a major part of the love communication that they do. Cats, though, are special creatures that not only lick humans for expressing affection but lick themselves too for grooming purposes. Grooming the fur means that the impurities are pulled away and it can’t be done with a slippery smooth tongue logically.

Here comes the special anatomy of the cats in a role where the tongue is adorned by a unique element known as the Papillae. This is the name given to the minute barbs or spines that exist all over the cat tongue. The chemical structure of the papillae features keratin that is a kind of protein also found to be existing in the human hair and fingernails and imparts the hardiness to these wire-like structures.

These papillae are solely responsible for the harsh sensations that cat tongue leaves during licking. They are also uniquely shaped as they curve backward in an angle just like the claws of the cat appear. Essentially, they curve as to be facing the backside of the cat’s mouth.

The entire credit for why the cat becomes able to use its tongue for different purposes lies with these papillae only. It majorly serves the purpose of pulling things out as the tongue moves over any surface and then holds them until the tongue leaves the surface. All this becomes possible solely due to the curved shape of these spines.

Ways in which a rough tongue helps cats

why are cats tongues rough

You may not find any personal benefit in understanding why are cats’ tongues so rough but viewing the matter from the point of view of the cats, you will be amazed to see the multiple benefits of a rough tongue for the cats. The following are some of the major purposes that the papillae studded tongues of cats serve.

Self-grooming for the cats

Cats spend a major portion of their time grooming themselves and the tongue plays a major role in that. The curved papillae serve their function perfectly here as they help in-

  • Detangling the knots in the fur and comb thoroughly
  • Pull the debris and dirt
  • Trap the loose hair
  • Distribute the skin oils throughout the coat evenly
  • Remove the hair or scent of any hunted prey
  • Condition the hair
  • Remove the mats excellently

Thus, it can be seen that the papillae act like a natural comb for cats that gives the best effects of a professional grooming tool in a way. The spines stand run through the coat perpendicularly for maximum coverage when the cat widens the tongue for the lick. This pivoting action also helps the coat to remain fluffy.

Hunting and holding the prey

You must have the notion that the sharp canines of the cat and their claws help majorly while they hunt which is true. However, the tongue isn’t of any less importance in the hunting process if you think why are cats’ tongues so rough. The curved spines perform various roles like-

  • Holding the prey strongly
  • Pierce through the flesh and shred it nicely
  • Picking every single bit of meat

They also lick their fur after they kill prey to remove the blood and scent traces to avoid attracting other predators.

Cooling the body

The papillae on cats tongues also act as air conditioners for the cats where they cool off their body while licking the fur. The spines are hollow and they wick up the saliva from the mouth of the cat then wet the fur with it as the cat moves the tongue over the coat for grooming. This saliva or the liquid tends to evaporate eventually and gives off cooling sensations on the coat of the cat.

The mechanism involves the creation of a temperature difference between the outer fur layer and base of the skin to allow the movement of heat waves away from the body. All of this finally helps in the maintenance of body temperature in cats.

 Drinking easily

The papillae spines on the tongue of the cats are very densely situated and they help a lot in giving the scooping effect to the tongue so that it can slurp the water inside the mouth. Cats curl the upper portion of their tongue and then move it in a darting motion over the water surface following by pulling it up quickly so that the water moves up while in motion itself.

Thus, a whole column of the water reached inside the mouth of the cat and it can quench its thirst adequately.

Problems given by the rough tongues of cats and their solutions

If you have gotten convinced about why are cats’ tongues rough and now believe that they are all useful only, get ready to read some of the problems that too occur because of them.

As the spines pull out the hair, the whole bunch of hair continues to stick with them but the problem occurs when they are not able to spit it out. They have to ingest it at last and that is the trigger point for the issue of hairballs. All the ingested hair doesn’t pass through the digestive system successfully and end up coming out in cat vomit.

This problem may even turn out to be serious if remain unattended. It also becomes important to keep away stringy things like floss, yarn, ribbons, etc, out of the reach of cats because they can easily get stuck into the tongue and teeth causing unnecessary problems like ingestion, vomiting, lethargy, etc.

You must remain vigilant and make sure that the unwanted stuff remains inaccessible to the cats. Frequent use of grooming tools to comb the coat can also minimize the risk of hairball because the loose hair gets removed frequently and thus won’t be ingested by the cat. Give them hairball remedies as soon as you see any symptoms.


We hope you must be feeling surprises to know why are cats’ tongues rough as you probably could never have thought about the many important functions it helps the cat in performing. Mother Nature is really wonderful as every creature is wonderful and sufficient in its unique way and there is so much more about cats that make them such adorable pets.

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Luna Tran

My name is Luna and I am a great cat lover and a cat owner of three lovely cats. I have owned many cats till now and have dedicated many years to nurturing and caring cats. Through this blog, I am here to share my knowledge and experience about cats.