This is why cats stick their tongue out

If you’ve ever glanced over to see your cat’s tongue partially sticking out of his mouth, you might have wondered if there was something wrong with him. 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

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 his surroundings with his tongue. Also called the Flehmen response, when your cat leaves his mouth open and his tongue out, he’s collecting pheromones on his 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 him.

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 his tongue will slip out from time to time.

You might even unknowingly reinforce your cat’s sticking his tongue out. If you laugh at your cat, give him attention, or give him a treat when he does this behavior, he may quickly learn that sticking his 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 he relaxes, so his mouth opens up just enough to let his tongue through.

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

Side view of a cat sticking its tongue out

Physical reasons why your cat might have his tongue out

While in many cases it’s normal for your cat to stick his tongue out a little bit, there can be physical issues behind this behavior that require more attention.

  • Dental issues: If your cat is having a dental issue, he might stick his 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 his tongue out.
  • Health issues: Other significant health issues like stomatitis can cause significant discomfort and might make your cat stick his 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 his 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 his 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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