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These are the surprising reasons why cats stick their tongues out

If you’ve ever glanced over to see your cat’s tongue partially sticking out of their mouth, you might have wondered if there was something wrong with them. The truth is, some cats do stick their tongues out from time to time, and in most cases, this behavior is completely normal and nothing to worry about. In fact, the behavior has even been deemed the “blep” online, and there are countless photos of cats looking silly with their tongues partially out. So, why do cats blep? There are a few potential causes behind this behavior and your cat’s funny-looking, tongue-half-out appearance.

Closeup of a cat sticking its tongue out

Why do cats stick their tongues out?

Your cat is exploring with his tongue

Why do cats stick their tongue out? One of the most common reasons is that your cat is quite literally exploring their surroundings with their tongue. Also called the Flehmen response, when your cat leaves their mouth open and tongue out, they’re collecting pheromones on their tongue. Those pheromones give your cat important information about other cats around, including whether they’re in heat. Your cat may be assuming this strange posture simply to get more information about the cats around them.

Your cat is missing teeth

Sometimes cats let their tongue hang out a little because they’re missing their canine teeth. These teeth help keep the tongue within the mouth, so if your cat is missing one or two of these teeth, it’s more likely that their tongue will slip out from time to time.

Your cat is trying to please you

You might even unknowingly reinforce your cat’s sticking their tongue out. If you laugh at your cat, give them attention, or give them a treat when they do this behavior, they may quickly learn that sticking their tongue out gets a positive response. You might start to see your cat do this repeatedly, mainly to get a positive reaction from you.

Your cat is relaxed

Sometimes when cats are relaxed, their tongues naturally slip out. This happens because your cat’s jaw loosens up as they relax, so their mouth opens up just enough to let the tongue through.

If your cat is sticking their tongue out because they’re relaxed, it’s most likely to happen when you’re patting them or when they’re fully asleep or almost asleep. Once your cat wakes up or focuses on something else, you’ll probably notice them pull their tongue back into their mouth, swallow, and turn their attention elsewhere.

Side view of a cat sticking its tongue out

Your cat has something stuck to their tongue

Unlike human tongues, cat tongues are dry and rough, and they feature papillae, which are tiny barbs that cover your cat’s tongue. Papillae help cats eat and drink water, but it’s also possible for something to get stuck to them. Think about how annoying it is when a hair gets in your mouth — and then think about how much more annoying that must be for a cat!

Your cat has dental issues

While in many cases it’s normal for your cat to stick their tongue out a little bit, there can be physical issues behind this behavior that require more attention. If your cat is having a dental issue, they might stick their tongue out in response. Issues like an abscess, gum disease, or even tooth decay can be painful and might elicit this behavior. Inflammation or an infection can also prompt your cat to stick their tongue out.

Your cat has health issues

Other significant health issues like stomatitis can cause significant discomfort and might make your cat stick their tongue out in response. Sometimes a tongue hanging partially out can even indicate that your cat has a health issue like dementia.

If you’re worried that your cat’s behavior is unusual and might be caused by a health issue, schedule an appointment with your vet. Your vet will probably start with a thorough examination of your cat’s mouth and throat. Then, they’ll probably do an overall wellness exam to make sure there aren’t any other significant health problems going on.

A cat sticking their tongue out is often pretty normal. How often you see this behavior really depends on your cat. Some cats almost never do this, while others might stick their tongues out several times a day. With several potential causes behind this behavior, you will need to observe your cat carefully to determine just what’s prompting this. In most cases, the behavior is harmless, but sometimes it can indicate an underlying health issue that needs a look. If your cat is sticking their tongue out an unusual amount, or if you see it paired with excessive drool or blood, call your vet right away to have your cat checked out. Otherwise, keep an eye on this behavior just in case, but chances are your cat is just fine.

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