Has your cat ever licked you? When a dog licks you, it is showing you affection, and it is ok. Most of the time it makes you smile. But, when our cat licks you, sometimes we have the opposite reaction and shy away from the affection, it just feels weird because their tongues feel like sandpaper. Ever wonder what the story is behind the barbed tongue your cat has? Keep reading to find out!
The barbs on a cat’s tongue actually have a name, they are called papillae. These papillae are made out of a natural substance found in the body called keratin and it is the same substance that fingernails are made from. If you look closely at a cat’s tongue, you will notice that they all face towards the back of the throat. There are two main purposes for these barbs.
Cats are natural predators. In the wild, they are carnivores and must hunt for prey in order to survive. Once they have caught and killed their prey, their tongues act like a rasp and strip the meat from their prey’s bones – filling their stomachs and not leaving much behind. And since the barbs point towards the back of the throat, their food is easily guided towards the stomach.
The second and possible most important job of these barbs is grooming. Ever wonder why your cat usually grooms after a meal? It is a natural instinct. In the wild, after catching and consuming their prey, a cat will groom themselves to get rid of any scent left by their latest meal. It is the same concept for hunting a deer, you won’t see one if they can smell you. A cat must be sneaky and scent-free if they want any chance of a successful hunt for their next meal.
At home, grooming keeps a cat’s coats healthy and mat free. The barbs on the tongue help rid of dirt, ectoparasites and keep their coat shiny and silky smooth. Unfortunately for long-haired kitties, this may mean leaving a hairball or two. Everything that sticks on those barbs gets a one-way ticket to the stomach. (And this is why things such as yarn and tinsel are such a danger for kitties to play with!) However, sometimes a cat will overgroom which can cause alopecia or hair loss. If you notice bald spots on your cat, contact your veterinarian. This can be a sign of anxiety or allergies and is best for your cat if caught and treated early.
So why does your cat lick you in the first place? They aren’t looking at you as prey. Cats will groom each other when a bond is made with trust, if you bring a new kitty into the house and you see both cats grooming each other, it is a great sign. If your cat licks you they are more than likely trying to groom you, you may not have the hair to groom on your arm, but your cat doesn’t mind. They trust you. So, despite the sandpaper to skin feeling, let your kitty lick you. They are just trying to tell you that they love you.