You might better know this adorable trait as a “blep,” and it’s just one of the reasons that we love cats so much. It’s unclear exactly where that term comes from, but go ahead and search for #blep on Twitter, and you’ll find a whole host of kitties sticking their cute little tongues out.
Some cats will sit with their tongue sticking out for ages, observing the world around them with no clue of how cute they look. But why do cats do this? There are actually good, science-based reasons for cats blepping, or sticking their tongues out.
1. They’re “tasting “ the world
This sounds a little weird, but the Flehmen Response is a social behavior seen in plenty of mammals, including cats. It involves a cat open-mouth breathing and appearing to focus on a particular area. They’re picking up scents, primarily pheromones, from other cats. It’s a way for your cat to extract even more information about a particular scent. Cats may do this when they smell the urine of an unfamiliar cat, move to a new location, or even smell particularly stinky human laundry!
The Flehmen Response involves your cat using their tongue to direct a scent toward the Jacobson’s, or vomeronasal, organ. They will then spend some time standing still, working out exactly what that scent means. Sometimes, after analyzing this interesting scent, a cat simply forgets to pop their tongue back in!
Male cats are more likely to be seen carrying out this behavior, especially if they’re still intact and are checking out the scents of any female cats in the area.
2. They may be adjusting to a new texture or taste
Many cats are creatures of habit, and if you switch their food to a distinctly different taste or texture, they may take a while to adjust. Some cats will stick their tongues out at this point, especially if they find the new taste or texture unusual.
This behavior should stop once your cat transitions to their new food. If it continues, you may want your vet to check their mouth for sores or an allergic reaction.
3. They’re relaxed and their jaws are loose
Another scenario when you might see your cat with their tongue sticking out is when they’re in a deep sleep. At this point, their jaws can loosen and their tongue may poke out.
This is more common in flat-faced breeds like Persians. These cats literally don’t have as much space in their mouth for their tongues. Cats with teeth missing, especially lower canines, might be more likely to stick their tongues out in their sleep as well.
4. They have food stuck between their teeth
If your cat gets a piece of stringy meat stuck between their teeth, they might be sticking their tongue out as they attempt to free whatever is stuck.
Some cats will manage to work whatever is bothering them loose, others may allow their owners to take a look, and some might need vet intervention.
5. They may have a medical condition
Feline dementia, or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, affects some elderly cats. Since it affects their memory, they can sometimes forget what they were doing halfway through doing it. This can include washing themselves, so sometimes their tongue gets left behind.
6. They may have dental disease
Dental or periodontal disease is one of the most common reasons that domestic cats need to see a vet. A build-up of plaque on their teeth can lead to gum disease, bacterial infections, and painful gums. This can lead to some cats drooling excessively and hanging their tongue out.
Feline stomatitis or ulcers on the soft tissue in a cat’s mouth can also lead to panting and your cat sticking their tongue out.
7. Your cat is too hot
If you live somewhere really hot, you may see your cat panting like a dog. This isn’t a particularly effective way for a cat to regulate their temperature, so it can be a sign that they may be developing heatstroke.
Some cats will pant when they’re traveling in a car in summer or simply spending time outside on a day that turned out to be extremely hot and humid. If you suspect that your cat has overheated, call your vet for advice right away.
Heatstroke can also cause loss of balance, excessive drooling, vomiting, and collapse. If left untreated, it can lead to organ failure.
8. Your cat may be travel sick
If your cat sticks out their tongue while they’re on a long journey, they may be suffering from motion sickness. In this case, it can be combined with panting and drooling.
Car travel can affect your cat’s inner ear, leading to a feeling of dizziness and disorientation. Once your cat is safely home, these symptoms should stop, but if they don’t, call your vet.
9. Your cat may have been poisoned
Certain poisons that your cat may have ingested can cause them to stick their tongue out to get rid of the unpleasant taste and sensation. These include pesticides and household cleaners. If your cat eats a rodent or bird that has been poisoned, then those poisons may also affect your cat. A tongue hanging out may be combined with excessive drooling, dizziness, vomiting, and difficulty breathing.
If you suspect that your cat has ingested poison, call your vet and the Pet Poison Helpline immediately.
10. Your cat might have a respiratory infection
Respiratory infections may make it harder for your cat to breathe, so they may open their mouth and pant with their tongue sticking out. This may be combined with excessive tears in their eyes, a lack of balance, increased breathing rate, and a lack of interest in food.
Cats with respiratory infections will need veterinary treatment as soon as possible.
Wrapping it up
Sometimes a cat blepping and sticking their tongue out is an adorable excuse for another photo of your floofy friend. Other times, it can be a worrying sign that they need medical attention.
You know your cat best, so if a stuck-out tongue goes from looking cute to worrying, don’t hesitate to call your vet for advice.
Featured Image: Olga Galchenko, Flickr
- 1. They’re “tasting “ the world
- 2. They may be adjusting to a new texture or taste
- 3. They’re relaxed and their jaws are loose
- 4. They have food stuck between their teeth
- 5. They may have a medical condition
- 6. They may have dental disease
- 7. Your cat is too hot
- 8. Your cat may be travel sick
- 9. Your cat may have been poisoned
- 10. Your cat might have a respiratory infection
- Wrapping it up