Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 28th 2016 Contents B6
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt August 28, 2016
If you have ever been licked by a cat, the first
thing you probably noticed was the rough texture
of its tongue. Dogs have smooth tongues, whereas
the texture of a cat’s tongue is scratchy and rough,
almost like sandpaper.
The centre of a cat’s tongue is covered with small,
backward-facing barbs or spines known as filiform
papillae. These papillae contain keratin which is the
same material human fingernails are made of, and
this makes the papillae rigid. There are several reasons
for cats having a rough tongue.
Cats are carnivores or meat-eaters. They hunt
smaller animals as food. The most vital role in the
wild would be that the spines on the tongue are used
to help rasp and scrape flesh from the bones of their
prey. Since the hooks are backward-facing, the papillae
also help hold the prey in the cat’s mouth. These
barbs face toward the cat's throat and help push food
in that direction for swallowing.
The cat’s tongue also has fungiform (mushroom-
shaped) papillae on the sides and tip and vallate
papillae at the back, which hold the taste buds. Cats
have relatively few taste buds compared to humans—
470 in cats on average compared to 10,000 in the
average human. A cat can sense both taste and texture
with its tongue. Domestic and wild cats share a gene
mutation that keeps their sweet taste buds from
binding to sugary molecules, leaving them with no
ability to taste sweetness. They are also relatively
insensitive to salt. Their taste buds instead respond
to amino acids and bitter tastes, and cats seem to
be attracted to the texture of particular foods on the
Cats and many other animals have a Jacobson’s
organ located in their mouths that allows them to
taste-smell certain aromas of which humans have
no experience. They also have a distinct temperature
preference for their food, preferring it with a tem-
perature around 100°F (38 °C) which is similar to
that of a fresh kill, rejecting food presented cold or
refrigerated (which would signal to the cat that the
“prey” item is long dead and therefore possibly toxic
or decomposing). They use their tongues to test
whether the food is too hot, too cold, or just right.
The taste buds of cats are also sensitive to the taste
of water and it is important that your cat always has
access to fresh, clean water. Unlike dogs that tend
to slop water all over when they drink, cats are dainty
drinkers because of the way they use their tongues.
They form their tongues into small cup shapes when
they lap up water.
The spines on a cat’s tongue help it function as
a built-in hairbrush or comb which can be used to
groom the its fur. The tongue’s rough texture is perfect
for grooming. As the cat licks, loose hairs and other
debris are caught on the barbs and removed from
the coat. However, this can also lead to the formation
of hairballs if you do not brush your pet often enough.
Since the loose hairs are gathered by the barbs and
directed toward the throat, the cat ends up swallowing
the hairs. They collect in the stomach and form indi-
gestible masses that can lead to blockages if the cat
does not cough them back up. These clumps of hair
are usually sausage-shaped and about two to three
centimetres long. Hairballs can be prevented with
remedies that ease elimination of the hair through
the gut, as well as regular grooming of the coat with
a comb or stiff brush. Some cats can develop a com-
pulsive behaviour known as psychogenic alopecia,
or excessive grooming.
Cats also use their tongues to cool off when groom-
ing themselves. As they lick, the moisture left on the
fur produces an evaporative cooling effect similar to
sweating in humans. In addition to regulating body
temperature, the saliva helps to keep the fur clean
and smelling fresh.
Finally, cats use their tongues to show affection.
When your cat licks you, she is showing you she
cares for you, and this is a generous expression since
many felines tend to be somewhat aloof.
Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2016
Cat got your tongue?
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