Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongue Out?

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We’re used to our cats doing all sorts of things that make us laugh, but have you ever noticed your cat sticking their tongue out? The chances are they’re not just pulling a funny face!

There are lots of reasons why cats stick their tongue out, but don’t worry, most of the time it is a completely normal cat behavior and nothing to be concerned about.

In this article we will explore the reasons why your cat might stick their tongue out, when it is a totally normal behavior and when it might indicate something more worrying, and you should visit your veterinarian.

So, Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongues Out?

They Are Exploring Their Environment

cat sticking its tongue out

Sticking their tongues out helps cats trap pheromones and other scents and ‘flick’ them to a special organ at the roof of their mouth called Jacobson’s Organ which analyses the scent.

One of the most common reasons that cats stick their tongues out is when they are using their senses to gather useful information about their environment.

Known as “The Flehmen Response”, your cat will lift their lips and open their mouth slightly, letting their tongue stick out. This allows their tongue to trap pheromones and other scents and ‘flick’ them to a special organ at the roof of their mouth called Jacobson’s Organ (or the vomeronasal organ) which analyses the scent. Humans don’t have this organ, but the experience is thought to be somewhere between a taste and a smell!

Cats usually display the Flehmen response when they have detected the pheromones of another cat, particularly ones found in urine from scent-marking, but they also use it to explore other interesting smells that give them information about their surroundings.

A “blep” is the face your cat pulls when they forget to retract their tongue afterwards – often because they’ve been distracted!

Also Read: 10 Amazing Facts About Your Cat’s Tongue

They Are Relaxed Or Sleeping

If you notice your cat blepping while they are sleeping, don’t worry, this is completely normal – some cats blep most often when they are dreaming!

Just like us, when cats are sleeping or really relaxed their lower jaw can slacken just far enough for their tongue to stick out. It is particularly common for flat-faced cat breeds such as Persian cats to blep as their jaw can be very short so there isn’t much room to keep their tongue inside their mouths.

If you notice your cat blepping while they are sleeping, don’t worry, this is completely normal – some cats blep most often when they are dreaming!

They Have Learned To Do It

As we know, cats are very smart and can learn all sorts of funny cat behaviors through positive reinforcement. If you give your cat attention when they stick their tongue out your cat may have picked up on this and repeat the behavior because they know it makes you happy!

They Have Got Distracted

Often, when we see our cats with the tip of their tongue sticking out of their mouth it is because they have simply forgotten to put it back in – the hilarious cat expression the internet has termed “blepping”!

Cats blep when they have been distracted during a grooming session, after finding a particularly fascinating smell in the air, or when they have just woken up. Whatever the cause of the distraction it can be pretty adorable!

They Are Missing Some Teeth

The teeth at the front of your cat’s mouth help to keep the tongue inside the mouth. If your cat is missing all or some of these teeth (particularly the large canine teeth) then the tongue may stick out.

Your cat might be missing teeth due to previous dental work with your veterinarian, but if you are concerned that they may have undetected tooth decay then do make an appointment to have their mouth checked with your veterinarian.

Also Read: The Complete Guide To Dental Cleaning For Cats

They Have A Bad Taste In Their Mouth

Just like us, our cats pull funny faces when they taste something they don’t like! This is usually nothing to worry about as long as it doesn’t last for more than a few minutes, and what they have eaten is safe for cats.

Also Read: Bad Breath In Cats: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

When Should You Worry About Your Cat Sticking Their Tongue Out?

When Should You Worry About Your Cat Sticking Their Tongue Out

In most cases, a cat sticking its tongue out is a normal behavior, but occasionally it can be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs investigating.

You might be wondering if you should ever be worried about your cat’s tongue sticking out. Most of the time, when cats stick their tongue out it is completely normal behavior.

But occasionally a cat sticking their tongue out can be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs investigating. If you are ever worried your cat might be unwell, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your veterinarian.

Dental Problems

If you also notice drooling, a bad smell or staining around your cat’s mouth then they may be suffering from a problem with their teeth or mouth such as gum disease, an abscess, feline stomatitis, periodontal disease, gingivitis, mouth ulcers and lesions, or tooth decay. If you are worried your cat may have dental issues you should arrange a visit to your vet to have your cat’s mouth examined.

Breathing Or Heart Problem

If your cat is also breathing very fast, with their mouth open or with a lot of effort, or they appear distressed then they may be suffering from a serious problem with their heart or breathing such as a respiratory infection or heart failureThis is an emergency, and you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Trauma

If you notice your cats tongue sticking out persistently, or blood around your cat’s mouth, or signs of pain, then your cat may have been in an accident that has caused damage to their mouth that can cause the tongue to stick out. This is an emergency, and you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Dementia

If you have also noticed other behavioral changes such as disorientation, changes in your cats sleep pattern or personality then your cat could be experiencing signs of brain changes such as dementia. Just as in people, dementia is most common in older cats.

If you are worried that your older cat is experiencing changes in their behavior then make an appointment to visit your veterinarian.

Travel Sickness

Just like us, cats can suffer from motion sickness when they are travelling. If you notice your cat’s tongue sticking out when you travel, they may be feeling sick – you might also notice drooling, vocalizing or vomiting. These signs should stop once you have finished travelling, so if they don’t it could mean that your cat is unwell, and you should visit your veterinarian.

Heat Stroke

On a hot day you may notice your cat stick their tongue out to cool down. If you think your cat is hot then make sure to keep them in a cool, shaded environment and ensure they have plenty of access to fresh water.

If your cat is showing other signs of being unwell such as vomiting, panting, or drooling they may be suffering from heat stroke which is when their body temperature becomes dangerously high. This is an emergency, and you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Poisoning

Although rare, cats may stick their tongues out if they have eaten something poisonous. If you notice sudden, excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth, dizziness, vomiting or collapse then these could be signs that your cat is suffering from poisoning. This is an emergency, and you should contact your vet immediately.  

Cats can be poisoned by anti-freeze, certain plants, cleaning products, medications and other chemicals.

Conclusion

There are lots of reasons why cats stick their tongues out, and understanding your cat’s behavior can help you work out when it is normal and when you should be worried.

Most of the time, it is completely normal (and very cute!) for cats to stick their tongues out – or ‘blep’ – particularly when they are exploring the smells around them, they are feeling very relaxed or they have been distracted.

However, it can be a sign of an underlying health problem that needs checking by your veterinarian. If you notice your cat is sticking their tongue out more often than usual, or they are also showing any of the symptoms listed above then you should contact your veterinarian straight away.

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About Dr. Nat Scroggie MRCVS

Nat is a keen runner and has a passion for wellbeing, both within and outside the veterinary profession where she works hard to support others in their own wellbeing. She lives in Nottingham with her partner, their young baby and their beloved 14 year old lab x collie, Milly.

One thought on “Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongue Out?

  1. gardencat

    After some grooming sessions, their tongue is numb and they don’t know that it’s not in their mouth!

    Reply

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