Why Do Cats Stick Out Their Tongues?

Updated: November 18, 2023


Have you ever caught your feline friend sticking its tongue out seemingly out of nowhere? It’s one of those amusing and baffling behaviors that cats often exhibit, leaving you curious about the reasons behind it. While the sight of that tiny pink tongue is undeniably adorable, the mystery behind it prompts the need for some answers.

This peculiar tongue-out moment commonly occurs during your furry companion’s naptime or while it’s captivated by the view outside the window. Your Instagram feed may even boast about 25 snapshots capturing this endearing phenomenon. In this article, we aim to unravel the enigma and shed light on why your cat engages in this charming yet perplexing behavior.

The motivations behind your cat’s tongue-baring antics range from simple and instinctual to more intricate and occasionally disconcerting. Regrettably, the act of sticking out the tongue might also serve as a potential indicator of an undisclosed medical issue. Join us as we delve into both the delightful and concerning aspects of this behavior, equipping you with a deeper understanding of navigating the realms of feline parenting.

Read also: How to Keep Cats from Scratching Furniture (Claws of Concern)

Why the Tongue?

Take a deep breath—there’s no need to jump to conclusions and worry that your cat’s tongue-out display is a sign of illness. Let’s calmly delve into the less concerning reasons behind this peculiar behavior.

Taste and Texture

Cats frequently find themselves intrigued by objects in their mouths, driven by a desire to explore the taste and texture of those items. The act of sticking out the tongue and then retracting it allows the cat to engage in a tactile investigation with its mouth.

Beyond a penchant for taste, cats are particularly captivated by texture. Your cat may have a bit of hair in its mouth, a lingering flavor from its recent meal, or even a foreign object prompting this exploration.

Regardless of the specific scenario, this behavior is entirely natural for cats. It could be likened to an oral fixation, as cats derive enjoyment from playing with objects using their rough and sensitive tongues.

Loosened Jaw

Another common reason for your cat sticking out its tongue is a loose jaw, which occurs when they are sleepy or sedated, similar to how your jaw loosens during such times. Picture those moments when you wake up in the middle of the night with your mouth open and a bit of drool on the pillow – it’s a natural occurrence.

When your cat is in a super-relaxed state, the tip of the tongue often protrudes and remains that way. They aren’t aware of it or how adorable it looks; it’s simply a physical response to being at rest.

Eating and Drinking

A cat’s tongue sticking out during meals serves a functional purpose, aiding in the transfer of cat food and scooping up water into their mouth. After finishing a meal, cats may use their tongue to dislodge crumbs from their teeth. International Cat Care points out that if you’re bottle-feeding a newborn kitten, you’ll observe them sticking out their tongue to wrap around the bottle tip. In some cases, their tiny tongues may linger outside after feeding, showcasing one of the many adorable behaviors exhibited by kittens.

Food in the Teeth

Another possible reason for your cat’s tongue sticking out is leftover food in their mouth, trapped between their teeth. If you’re one of those pet owners who overlook their cat’s dental hygiene, this could be the cause. Neglecting dental care can lead to various health issues, potentially offering more serious explanations for the tongue-sticking behavior.

Problematic Health Conditions

Now, let’s delve into more serious possibilities. If your cat is sticking out its tongue persistently, it might indicate underlying health conditions. It’s crucial to be aware of these potential reasons and seek veterinary attention promptly if you suspect any of them.

Dental Issues: Beyond food particles, dental problems such as gum disease, tooth decay, abscesses, or sores can cause your cat to stick out its tongue, as they may experience a bad taste in their mouth.
Senior Dementia: Like humans, cats can suffer from dementia as they age. In senior cats, an inability to keep the tongue inside the mouth could be a sign of dementia.
Infection: Inflammation and infection in the cat’s mouth, including lesions and periodontitis, may lead to tongue protrusion.
Stomatitis: Although less common, feline stomatitis is a severe health condition that can cause tongue sticking, loss of appetite, drooling, and panting.

If any of these conditions seem plausible, take proactive steps by scheduling a vet appointment. Avoid relying on Google searches for a diagnosis, as only a qualified vet can provide an accurate assessment. Early intervention is crucial, and most of these conditions can be treated effectively with prompt veterinary care.

The Flehmen Response

Have you ever noticed your cat sticking out their tongue and making a comical, scrunched-up face with their lips curled back after sniffing something in the air? This behavior is known as the Flehmen Response. Cats possess a keen sense of smell, and by opening their mouth, they can gather information about their surroundings based on scents.

The characteristic “cat smirk” created during this response helps open up their airway, facilitating the transfer of scents to their vomeronasal organ, also known as Jacobson’s organ, located on the roof of their mouth. This unique method allows cats, along with many other animals, to effectively “taste the air” and identify potential prey or predators.

Cat Tongue Facts

Now that we’ve delved into the reasons behind cats sticking out their tongues, let’s explore some fascinating cat tongue facts to enhance your understanding of your feline companion’s biology. These tidbits not only provide insight into their behavior but also add a touch of fun to your knowledge.

  1. Cats Lack Sweet Taste Buds: Ever wonder why your cat doesn’t show interest in your sweet treats? It turns out, cats lack taste buds for anything sweet, making chocolate, for example, both unappealing and potentially dangerous for them.

  2. Social Grooming as Bonding: If your cat engages in frequent licking and grooming, it’s not just about hygiene. This behavior serves as a bonding experience among cats, typically occurring between those who know and like each other. Don’t expect the same from the neighbor’s cat during a visit.

  3. Barbs for Meat Removal: Cats have barbs on their tongues designed to efficiently remove meat from bones. Contrary to the misconception that their rough tongues are solely for removing loose hair, these barbs are remarkably strong.

  4. Keratin Sheath Covering Barbs: The barbs on a cat’s tongue are covered with a robust keratin sheath, the same material found in human nails. This sheath contributes to the sandpaper-like texture of your cat’s kisses.

  5. Grooming for Survival: Grooming isn’t just a matter of hygiene; it’s also a survival strategy. Cats often groom themselves after hunting or enjoying a meal to erase scent evidence. This instinctual behavior helps outdoor cats remain discreet, but indoor cats still exhibit it.

  6. Rapid Tongue Flips While Drinking: When cats drink water, their tongues flip an astonishing four times per second. This rapid movement creates a flow of water into the cat’s mouth from the source, a necessary action in the absence of being able to pick up a glass of water and drink conventionally.

These captivating cat tongue facts not only surprise but also provide a deeper appreciation for the unique characteristics and behaviors of your feline friend. If you have children at home, sharing these intriguing details can be a delightful way to enhance their understanding of the furry companion sharing their living space.

Do Cats Smile?

Having delved into the intriguing world of cat tongues, another thought emerges: can cats actually smile? It often seems like all felines wear a perpetual frown, doesn’t it? Cats have earned a reputation for their independence, aloofness, and sometimes even a touch of malevolence. This is a stark contrast to our perception of dogs, which we often associate with the ability to smile.

Unfortunately for cat enthusiasts, the truth is that cats can’t smile. While you may adore your cat and recognize their happiness and playfulness, the canine version of a beaming smile is simply beyond the feline repertoire. Even if you argue that you’ve witnessed your cat flashing a smile now and then, it’s more wishful thinking than reality.

Smiling, in the true sense, isn’t a natural aspect of the animal kingdom. Humanizing our pets by attributing smiles to them is a common inclination, making them seem more relatable. However, the expressions that may resemble a smile in dogs are not replicated by cats. It’s a bit of a letdown.

In reality, cats have evolved to conceal their emotions, a survival strategy honed in the wild. To gauge your cat’s feelings, it’s more accurate to interpret their body language. The “slow blink” is as close as you’ll get to a smile from a cat. When your feline friend slowly closes their eyes, revealing only a fraction of their pupils, it signifies contentment. This subtle form of communication is often observed when you pamper your cat with head scratches or chin strokes, fostering a sense of contentment and trust.

Now that we’ve uncovered the mysteries behind a cat sticking out its tongue, feel free to capture the delightful phenomenon through numerous pictures and share the joy on social media. If you’re not into the online scene, relish the cuteness with your own eyes and let a smile grace your face—it’s truly heartwarming.

Dental Disease

The Cornell Feline Health Center highlights the prevalence of teeth and gum issues in cats, including common conditions like gingivitis and periodontitis. Tooth resorption, characterized by the breakdown of tooth structure, is also a frequent concern. It’s worth noting that kittens may naturally use their tongues to manipulate loose baby teeth, providing a valid reason for sticking out their tongues.

Maintaining your cat’s oral health involves brushing their teeth regularly and scheduling routine dental checkups with the vet. Opting for cat food specially formulated for oral care can contribute to keeping their mouth and teeth in good condition.

Always consult with your vet if you have any concerns. In many cases, especially when no other symptoms are present, a cat sticking out its tongue may simply indicate a state of calm and contentment, resulting in irresistibly sweet cat photos to share with friends and family.

Why does my cat stick its tongue out randomly?

Cats exhibit the behavior of sticking their tongues out for various reasons, ranging from instinctual grooming to potential health issues. Understanding the context can provide insights into your feline friend’s behavior.

Is it normal for cats to stick their tongues out while sleeping?

Yes, it’s relatively common for cats to stick their tongues out during sleep. This behavior is often associated with relaxation and a deep sleep state. However, if it becomes persistent or is accompanied by other concerning signs, it’s advisable to consult with a veterinarian.

Should I be concerned if my cat frequently sticks its tongue out?

While occasional tongue protrusion is generally harmless, persistent or unusual occurrences may indicate underlying health issues. If you notice a sudden change in your cat’s behavior, especially if accompanied by other symptoms, seeking veterinary advice is recommended.

Can stress or anxiety cause my cat to stick its tongue out?

Yes, stress or anxiety can contribute to unusual behaviors in cats, including sticking their tongues out. Environmental changes, new pets, or disruptions to their routine may trigger stress. Creating a calm and secure environment can help alleviate these issues.

Are there specific breeds more prone to sticking their tongues out?

There isn’t a specific correlation between cat breeds and sticking out tongues. However, individual personality traits and genetics may influence certain behaviors. Observing your cat’s habits and understanding its unique characteristics can provide valuable insights.

How can I tell if my cat’s tongue-out behavior is a sign of a medical problem?

Persistent tongue protrusion, especially if accompanied by drooling, difficulty eating, or other concerning signs, may indicate an underlying medical issue. A thorough examination by a veterinarian, including diagnostic tests if necessary, is crucial for an accurate diagnosis.

Can dental issues contribute to cats sticking their tongues out?

Yes, dental problems, such as dental disease or toothache, can lead to discomfort, causing a cat to stick its tongue out. Regular dental care, including professional cleanings and at-home oral hygiene, can help prevent and address dental issues.


The sight of your cat sticking its tongue out may evoke both amusement and curiosity. This endearing yet mysterious behavior can be attributed to a variety of factors, ranging from instinctual grooming to potential health issues. While occasional tongue protrusion is usually harmless, consistent or unusual occurrences warrant attention, as they may be indicative of an underlying problem.

The context of your cat’s behavior, such as whether it occurs during sleep or moments of stress, can provide valuable insights. It’s important to stay attuned to any changes in behavior, especially if accompanied by other concerning signs like drooling or difficulty eating. Seeking guidance from a veterinarian ensures a thorough examination and, if necessary, diagnostic tests to pinpoint any medical issues.

Michael R

Michael R

I'm a publisher and editor at Cat Guide 101. I imagine that since you’re here, you likely own a cat — or two! — so helping you better understand them is my aim. I'd like to invite you to check out our about page to learn more about the Cat Guide 101 story.

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