Dear Green Gato #11 – Tongue Of The Cat

Close-up of a Birman licking against white background

Dear Green Gato,

I am writing to you to clear up a super odd habit that my cat has. My furbaby, Pirate, is the weirdest little guy. He’s affectionate and outgoing, especially for a cat. He is food-motivated, and sometimes can’t stop meowing whenever I walk through the kitchen. Once I feed him, he’s overjoyed and proceeds to indulge in whatever I’ve brought for him. Afterwards, almost like clockwork, Pirate comes to join me wherever I am and proceeds to lick all over me with his weird sandpaper tongue! I get that he is ready to groom after a big meal, but why on earth does he have to lick me?

Should I be concerned about the bacteria in his mouth? I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it. Any advice would be appreciated, thanks!

-Kaitlin C.

Dear Kaitlin,

I love your cat’s name! Pirate sounds like a hoot. I can only imagine how weird it must be to feel his little tongue “grooming” you after a meal! He certainly sounds like he loves you, so you can take the licking as a sign of affection. Cats are known to lick their babies and their feline friends as well, and the affection that Pirate shows you is essentially no different. When Pirate was just a wee baby cat, his mother demonstrated her love by grooming and taking care of him. This was likely one of the first tactile, or feeling, experiences that your cat remembers in their whole life.

A cat’s tongue is specifically engineered to assist with grooming, eating, and hunting prey. This is why Pirate’s tongue feels like sandpaper; it is covered with papillae. Papillae are tiny hooks that grow on your cat’s tongue, made from keratin, the same material as your fingernails. This may sound slightly icky, but these papillae help Pirate with so many things.

When cats love someone or something very very much, they usually decide to “claim” them or it as their own. How do they do this, you ask? With pheromones that aren’t detectable to the human nose, of course. Cats spread their scent through glands located all over their body, most notably on the face and paws. As your cat grooms you, with his face, mouth and paws, he is marking you as his beloved territory.

Now, to address the germ issue. If Pirate is just a gentle licker, you don’t need to worry about the spread of germs and bacteria. However, if he gets in the habit of biting, or is licking at a wound that you have, you should stop the behavior immediately. Your cat’s mouth contains more than 130 disease-producing microbes that could cause serious issues if they get into your bloodstream. Cat bites can easily get infected, so if an accident does occur, make sure to clean the area with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide immediately and consult your doctor if it begins to itch or look different.

As long as Pirate is licking you gently, and you are comfortable with the licking, you don’t have anything to worry about. Enjoy your silly cat!

-GG

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