Have you ever wondered about a cat’s tongue?

Of course you have! Cats are fascinating animals with very unique physiological adaptations that make them superb hunters in the wild. Sharing your home with a cat is akin to living alongside a miniature leopard; a smaller yet almost identical version of their gorgeous cousins. The cat’s tongue is just one of the amazing tools the entire Felid family uses to support their function as predators.

The rough “sandpaper” on a cat’s tongue is actually made up of hundreds of tissue bumps called Papillae.

Papillae: A small rounded protuberance on a part or organ of the body. [1]

There are 4 types of papillae:

Filiform papillae (“conical papillae”) — The most common form of papillae. They are located on the front half of the tongue. These are the only papillae that do not bear taste buds.

Foliate papillae (“leaf papillae”) — These are the largest papillae, and are arranged in two groups, one on either half of the tongue.

Fungiform papillae (“mushroom papillae”) — These aptly-named “fungi shaped” papillae are found on the very sides of the tongue.

Circumvallate papillae (“vallate papillae”) — These larger dome-shaped papillae are located at the back of the tongue, in a V-shaped pattern directly behind the Filiform papillae.

Yes, I got a bit nerdy there.

Cat tongues and human tongues are also designed exactly the same, except for 2 differences:

1) The Filiform papillae on a cat’s tongue are made of keratinized epithelial cells.

Keratinization: The process by which vertebrate epithelial cells become filled with keratin protein filaments, die, and form tough, resistant structures such as skin, nails, and feathers. [2]

This creates long backward-pointing hooks that are specially designed for both self-grooming as well as cleaning fur/feathers from the skin of prey and stripping meat from bones.

2) Cats only have around 400-500 taste buds compared to the whopping human average of around 10,000. Instead, smell and temperature play a much larger role in a cat’s ability to identify and evaluate food sources. It was originally thought for many years that cats cannot taste “Sweet” flavors; however researchers now believe that cats can taste all 5 known taste perceptions (Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter, Savory) that humans can, just to a far lesser degree of specificity and importance.

So the next time your cat lovingly begins to groom you, you can ponder how you taste. 😉

[Featured Image: Clouded Leopard]

2 thoughts on “Have you ever wondered about a cat’s tongue?

  1. Beth W. says:

    Thanks for the info and starting the blog! Why do some cats have a “lickey spot” and others don’t? When I pet SPCR Chloe in a certain spot, she immediately wants to give me kisses. SPCR Jasper, on the other hand, not so much.


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