Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongue Out?

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Have you ever caught your cat sticking its tongue out and wondered the reason behind that strange behavior? You aren’t alone.

As someone who has worked in the pet grooming business for over 10 years, one of the most common questions I get from cat owners is, “Why do cats stick their tongues out?” Many cat parents face this issue and aren’t sure about how to handle it.

So, I created an exhaustive list of health and non-health-related reasons your cat might be sticking its tongue out.

Read on to learn:

1. Fiddling With Taste & Texture

Cats are curious creatures and like to explore their environment using their senses, including taste and touch. If your cat sticks its tongue out briefly or licks the air, it might be fiddling with a new taste or texture in the air. 

You might note your kitty sticking its tongue out when sniffing something interesting. The tongue works with the nose suit as it investigates the scent.

2. Food Stuck Between The Teeth

Like humans, cats can get bits of food stuck between their teeth. If your cat repeatedly sticks its tongue out and tries to dislodge something from its teeth, it could be an attempt to remove an irritant.

Alternatively, your cat might have something stuck in its tongue. A cat’s tongue has tiny hook-like structures called papillae that help it clasp on food, lose hair, and help the cats lap up water.

It isn’t a surprise that hair can get stuck in its tongue when grooming. When that happens, your kitty might stick out its tongue, hoping the hair will come off.

3. Scent Mechanism (When Mating)

During mating or exposure to the pheromones of a potential mate, a female cat might display a unique behavior where she sticks her tongue out and curls it. 

An exposed tongue collects pheromones. The pheromones give your kitty important information about other cats, including readiness to mate.

Sticking the tongue out helps your cat transfer scents to a potential mate.

4. Breed Specific Traits (Burmese, Himalayan, Persian)

Some cat breeds have specific facial features that can lead to their tongues sticking out more frequently. Some of them include:

  • Persian 
  • Burmese
  • Himalayan
  • Brachycephalic

Brachycephalic breeds with flat faces may have shorter or flatter noses, which can cause their tongues to protrude slightly. Such tongue protrusion shouldn’t be a cause for concern in these breeds.

5. Distraction While Grooming

Cats self-groom by licking themselves. 

Their tongues efficiently remove dirt particles while the saliva on their fur lowers their body temperature. Sticking their tongues out can help reach different parts of their body that need grooming. 

However, it’s common for cats to get distracted while grooming and forget to put their tongues back in their mouths. The behavior has fascinated millions of cat parents who have dubbed the behavior “blepping.”

“Blepping” occurs when you catch your cat in a grooming session, and it pauses with its tongue out. Your kitty may leave the tongue hanging out until the distraction disappears, then resume where it left off in its grooming.

The behavior is adorable to many and shouldn’t be a cause of concern.

6. Hot Or Thirsty

Cats don’t sweat like humans. Instead, they rely on panting and sticking their tongues out to dissipate heat. When it’s warm, panting might indicate dehydration or heatstroke.

If you note your kitty’s tongue hanging out on a hot day, ensure it has fresh water access. Sticking out its tongue signifies your cat is trying to moisten its mouth. If the behavior is accompanied by disorientation and vomiting, give your cat water instantly before taking it to the vet for further examination. 

Looking out for panting is critical, especially if you have a long-haired kitty more prone to heatstroke than its short-haired counterparts.

7. Response to A Poor Taste

If your cat encounters something with an unpleasant taste (or a treat it isn’t fond of), it might stick its tongue out in a reflexive response to get rid of the taste. You might note this behavior after your cat has tried to nibble on something that it probably shouldn’t.

The behavior is similar to when humans taste something bitter or sour. We put our tongues out to get rid of the taste.

You can also note your cat sticking its tongue out after administering oral medication. If the medicine tastes bad, your cat will hang its tongue out to eliminate the bad taste.

8. Excitement

Your kitty might stick its tongue out when excited or engaged in play. The behavior is common when your cat is:

  • Chasing a toy
  • Pouncing on imaginary prey
  • Participating in interactive play

Besides play time, it’s common for cats to hang out their tongues when relaxed and at ease. When a feline is sleeping or on its way to sleep, it might get too relaxed and lose consciousness while the tongue is still out. 

The phenomenon is normal and adorable and shouldn’t raise any concerns.

While it’s common for cats to stick their tongue out, sometimes it can be a sign of an underlying health complication such as:

9. Dental Problems

Some dental problems can cause your cat to stick its tongue out due to discomfort or pain. Such conditions include:

  • Gingivitis: Gingivitis inflames cats’ gums, leading to discomfort, pain, and bleeding. The discomfort causes pain to your cat when it tries to close its mouth.

To prevent exerting pressure on the sore and inflamed gums, your cat might keep its mouth slightly open and stick its tongue out.

  • Periodontal Disease: Periodontal is an advanced gum disease that can cause tooth decay, gum recession, and tooth loss. The condition can lead to deterioration of the bone supporting the teeth.

Cats with periodontal disease might struggle to close their mouths properly due to the pain and instability of their teeth. Consequently, their tongues might hang out to get a comfortable mouth position.

  • Tooth Resorption: Tooth resorption is the progressive destruction of a tooth’s structure, often starting at or below the gum line. The process is painful and can expose sensitive tooth areas.

If your cat is experiencing tooth resorption, it might stick its tongue out to prevent pain and discomfort. The behavior might be accompanied by changes in oral and eating habits, such as avoiding using certain teeth for chewing.

  • Abscesses: An abscessed tooth or gum can cause pain, discomfort, and difficulty properly closing the mouth. Abscesses are typically the result of bacterial infections and can cause swelling, swelling, and pus accumulation.

The discomfort can make it difficult for a cat to close its mouth. In response, your cat might keep its mouth slightly open, prompting the cat to stick its tongue out.

  • Oral Tumors: Depending on the size and location, a tumor might physically interfere with your cat’s ability to close its mouth properly. Consequently, your cat’s tongue might be visible.

Oral tumors can lead to your cat changing eating habits and overall behaviors.

If you suspect your cat is sticking its tongue out because of dental issues, consult a vet for further examination.

10. Geriatric Cat Issues

As cats age, they can experience various health issues that might influence their behavior, including their oral habits. Geriatric cats might develop conditions like:

  • Dementia (Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome): Senior cats can experience cognitive decline, affecting their behavior and motor skills. Consequently, your cat can stick its tongue out and show other unusual behaviors.
  • Kidney Failure: Cats with kidney problems might drink more water and experience changes in their thirst and appetite. They might stick their tongues out if they are not feeling well or are dehydrated due to kidney issues.

11. Stomatitis

Stomatitis is a severe and painful inflammation of the gums and mouth lining. Cats with stomatitis might stick their tongues out due to the pain and discomfort they experience when their mouths are closed. 

Besides sticking the tongue out, other stomatitis symptoms include:

  • Drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Unkempt coat
  • Pawing at the face
  • Decreased appetite

If your cat sticks its tongue out and shows the above signs, contact a vet for further treatments.

12. Broken Teeth /Missing Teeth/ Fractured Jaw

A broken tooth, missing tooth, or fractured jaw can cause a cat’s tongue to stick out. The pain and discomfort associated with these injuries can prevent the cat from closing its mouth correctly.

Besides, if your kitty has a missing front tooth because of tooth decay or dental disease, the tongue may stick out through the gap. 

It’s uncommon for a cat to lose teeth, even at its advanced stage. However, some health problems, like dental diseases, can cause tooth loss and create a space for your kitty’s tongue to hang freely and out of the mouth. 

Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongue Out: In a Nut Shell

Cats stick their tongue out for several reasons. If you’re worried that your kitty’s behavior is unusual and a sign of a health issue, consult your vet. The professional will examine your cat’s mouth and throat and rule out the underlying cause.

Otherwise, a feline sticking its tongue out is usually normal. You only need to observe your cat to understand the cause of this behavior.


Are cats happy when they stick their tongue out?

Sticking their tongue out isn’t necessarily an indicator of a cat’s happiness. It might be due to grooming, exploring tastes and textures, responding to scents, cooling down, or other factors. 
Regardless of the cause, you should consider the overall context and other behaviors to determine your cat’s emotional state.

Why do cats “Blep”?

Cats might “blep” for various reasons, including:
Relaxation: Cats might protrude their tongue slightly from the mouth when relaxed and comfortable, especially when lounging or napping.
Grooming: A cat’s tongue might momentarily stick out or blep during grooming as part of its natural grooming routine.
Exploration: Cats explore their environment using their senses, including taste and touch. “Blepping” can occur when a cat is investigating a new smell, taste, or texture in the air.
Facial Structure: Some cats, particularly those with flat faces (brachycephalic breeds), might naturally have their tongues stuck out slightly due to their facial structure.

Why do cats flick their tongue in and out?

Cats might flick their tongues in and out, a behavior known as “flehmen response” for a specific purpose. You’ll likely observe this behavior when your cat is exposed to certain scents, like pheromones released by other cats during mating.

Why do cats stick their tongue while sleeping?

Cats that stick their tongue out when asleep are deeply relaxed. Like people whose mouths fall open when napping, some cats’ tongues slide out when sleeping with their mouths slightly open.

About Laura Martin

I'm Laura Martin. I get excited about all things cat related. I love my two cats - Dom and Kitty. When I'm not playing with my two feline friends, you can probably find me hiking. And yes, I have a 9 to 5 job. Although if you asked me I'd rather spend my time blogging and educating other cat moms and dads about what it takes to raise a healthy cat.

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