Why Do Cats Have Rough Tongues?

A cat has backward-facing filiform papillae in the center of the tongue.

If you have ever been licked by a cat, probably the first thing you noticed was the rough texture of the cat’s tongue. Dogs have smooth tongues, whereas the texture of a cat’s tongue is almost like sandpaper.  What is the reason for this?

The center of a cat’s tongue is covered with small, backward-facing barbs known as filiform papillae.  These papillae contain keratin, and serve several functions.  First, they are used to help rasp and scrape flesh from the bones of their prey.  Since the hooks are backward-facing, the papillae also help hold the prey in the cat’s mouth.

The spines on a cat’s tongue make the tongue like a built-in comb which can be used to groom the cat’s fur.  These spines help the cat remove dirt and loose fur. However, your cat still depends on you for regular grooming so he doesn’t ingest too much fur.

The cat’s tongue also has fungi-form (mushroom-shaped) papillae on the sides and tip of the tongue, and vallate papillae on the back of the tongue, which hold the taste buds. A cat can sense both taste and texture with its tongue.  A cat has relatively few taste buds, so relies on the smell, temperature and texture of the food as well as taste.

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