BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongues Out: The Secret Behind the “Blep”

cat with his tongue out
Jeremy Vaughn
Written by Jeremy Vaughn

Cats are gracious and self-conscious creatures. Their every move seems to be designed to impress, their posture is proud and befitting… except when they stare into the distance with their tongue sticking out of their mouth. This loony and utterly hilarious behavior is witnessed by all cat owners. Why do cats stick their tongues out, allowing themselves to look like derp overlords? We’ll try to decipher this for you.

The feline tongue is quite unique. It is covered in papillae (a scientific term for those little barbs resembling velcro tape) that are shaped like little hooks directed backward. If you were ever licked by your cat, you know how rough the tongue feels. This way the cat can collect the fur while grooming.

Cats spend more than one-quarter of their waking life tending to their fabulous fur! And sometimes they forget to pull their tongue back in afterward. The “blep,” as some anonymous internet poets have named this phenomenon, is probably the most adorable cat behavior when it comes to not-so-dazzling feline quirks. But forgetting to pull their tongue back in is not the only reason cats “blep.”

In this article we will explain the reasons behind the famous “blep” and why cats do this. Some reasons are quite funny and don’t require a lot of effort to explain, but other reasons might be medical issues or discomfort. There is a lot more to it than you would think, actually, so keep reading.

Why Do Cats Stick Out Their Tongue

There are many reasons as to why this behavior occurs, and some of them might not be as much fun as one would like to think. But let us start with the ones that are actually pretty benign. These are described in the section below:

#1: You Interrupted Your Cat Mid-Grooming

This is one of the most common reasons for cat bleps. Your cat was doing her usual coat maintenance when something drew her attention.

Alert as she is, her main priority was to listen closely to the suspicious sound or to check out the strange happening that interrupted her—and she forgot to pull the tongue back in her mouth.

It’s as simple as that. This is analogous to you saying “What?!” with your mouth open.

#2: Super-Relaxed

relaxed cat with his tongue out

You can sometimes witness the tongue hanging out while your cat is sleeping. This just means that she is so deep in slumber that every muscle is completely relaxed—even the jaw muscles. Don’t laugh; you are not so graceful while sleeping either, you know.

#3: Too Hot

The cat might just be hot. Cats pant just like dogs do, but they are a bit more subtle about it. Panting is a cat’s last resort when it comes to managing overheating.

Felines sweat through their paws and regulate the body temperature by grooming themselves. If all other methods fail (usually when it’s more than 90 degrees and very humid), they will try to cool down through the mouth.

If you realize that this is the case, try to move your cat out of the heat and find her a better place to be.

Panting can also be a method of thermoregulation. But beware: since cats don’t have a large surface that releases heat, they can easily get a heat stroke.

Cats can partially regulate their body temperature by grooming, but if they have no access to water, they cannot produce enough saliva to do so. Provide shade and fresh water at all times, especially if you live in an area where temperatures can go over 100 degrees.

If you are suspecting that your cat is having a heat stroke, look for the signs; drooling, panting, lack of balance, and a very red tongue are sure signs. Some cats shed excessively during a heat stroke. These are all early signs.

Late stage signs are lethargy, vomiting, and stumbling, and this is the time to act quickly. Even though your cat might not be happy with this, soak her with cool water and take her inside.

Don’t change the temperature she is exposed to rapidly, because this might cause even bigger problems like a heart attack or aneurysms. Elderly cats and breeds with long hair are especially susceptible to overheating, so take precautions.

See Also: How Hot is Too Hot for Cats

#4: Cats with Underbite

cat with underbite

If the jaw doesn’t close properly for whatever reason, your cat might look like she is sticking her tongue out. If this is just an anatomical predisposition, there is nothing you can do about it, really.

There is also the possibility that an older cat lost some of her teeth. Teeth keep the tongue in place, and if there are some missing, the blep might be the consequence.

Check your cats’ jaw and see if everything is in order. If not, definitely visit a veterinarian. Make sure that your cat is comfortable and doesn’t have problems breathing.

#5: She is High

Yup, there is such a thing as too much catnip. Some cats just don’t know when they’ve had enough and the derpy expression with the tongue sticking out, followed by the thousand miles stare is one of the signs.

Many cats get into an altered state when they are presented with catnip. One of the main side effects is the motor skills dysfunction.

We know it’s hilarious to watch your cat lose her mind while rolling in catnip, but keep an eye on her just to make sure she is ok. Not all cats take the trip lightly.

#6: The Lunch Wasn’t to Her Taste

cat with his tongue

Maybe she is just trying to get the taste of the new kibble out of her mouth because she didn’t agree with your choice. On the other hand, she might have something stuck in her teeth. Check it out, gently, and help her get rid of it if needed. Unfortunately, there are no toothpicks for cats.

#7: Cats Have an Extra Sense

Cats have a very unique organ located in the roof of the mouth. It is called the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson’s organ. It is an auxiliary sense of smell, primarily used for analyzing pheromones.

You have probably seen your cat opening her mouth after smelling something interesting and then standing frozen for a couple of seconds, with the silly grimace on her face. What she is actually doing during that time is collecting the smells into her mouth and analyzing them with the Jacob’s organ.

Cats usually use their tongue to direct the smell towards this extra sense to get a better whiff. It is used for chemical communication between members of the same species, but also for any smell that needs to be inspected more carefully than usual. And it’s not exclusive to cats. Snakes, mice, dogs, bears, and many other animals have this superpower, too.

#8: Medical Conditions

gray cat with his tongue out

Unfortunately, not all bleping is harmless. Sometimes it might be caused by a serious health condition, so make sure to keep an eye on your cat if she does this frequently.

Additionally, make note of when she does it. If it’s just some panting on a hot day, you don’t have any reason to fear. But it might be that your cat is warning you about something much more severe.

See Also: How to Tell If Your Cat is Sick

#9: Breathing Issues

Cats that have problems with the respiratory system might stick their tongue out to ease up breathing. Conditions that include complications in the respiratory system such as infections of the throat or sinuses are very common causes.

Some cats, especially breeds like the Persian and other breeds with a short muzzle might have hereditary problems of this type.

If you think that your cat has difficulties with breathing or some other respiratory problems, take her to the vet to find out if there is a problem. Acute sinus and nose diseases are often easy to treat and don’t require a lot of time to prevent from happening again.

#10: Injury

wounded cat

This really covers a very broad spectrum of possible scenarios, but your cat might have injured her head or her jaw. Gently check her head and neck by petting her and feeling the lower jaw. If she moves away while showing discomfort, she might have an injury that needs to be taken care of.

A broken jaw is not always easy to spot immediately, and yet it can be lethal. If you are suspecting that any type of physical injury is causing your cat’s unusual bleping, don’t hesitate to consult the vet.

#11: Gingivitis

Cats which suffer from this and related conditions often stick out their tongue with their mouth open to relieve pain. Gingivitis and feline periodontal disease are hard to spot but unfortunately, very common amongst our fluffy buddies. These conditions can cause mouth cavity inflammation, swelling, and even oral tumors.

You can easily check if anything looks suspicious by smelling your cat’s breath or checking the gums. If the gums look red and swollen or if your cat is drooling, you might have a problem.

See Also: How to Brush Cat Teeth

#12: Kidney Failure

fluffy cat lying with his tongue out

One of the side effects that can be noticed pretty quickly is the formation of ulcers on the gums. These are very painful, and the cat might stick her tongue out to avoid irritation.

Check out your cat’s gums, just in case, because spotting these signs can save your fluffy friend’s life. If you see anything unusual on the gum tissue, make sure to take your cat to the vet immediately.

#13: Teeth Loss

It might be that your cat chipped her tooth, which causes a lot of pain and she is sticking her tongue out to relieve some of it. Or, in the case of senior cats, the teeth can just fall out as a result of old age and poor dental hygiene.

The teeth serve as the “cage” for the tongue, keeping it in place. If there is a large vacancy in the jaw, the tongue can just dangle from the side of the mouth because your kitty can’t control it properly.

#14: Poisoning

poisoned cat with his tongue out

Drooling and panting excessively, vomiting, dizziness, and heavy breathing can all be signs of poisoning. Owners who let their cats outdoor should be especially mindful; if a cat ate a rodent which ingested poison, she might get poisoned as well.

See Also: How to Treat a Poisoned Cat

#15: Motion Sickness

Some cats can’t stand car rides. It can be a really unpleasant experience for them—just like for humans. Cats that suffer from motion sickness have a problem with inner ear imbalance that causes nausea, vomiting, and feelings of anxiety.

There are ways to prevent this condition with some medication. Although, if you decide to put your cat on medication, you absolutely have to consult the vet first. Don’t ever give your cat human meds because they can be harmful or even lethal to cats. Here are some you can use:

  • Acepromazine is commonly used as a cat sedative. It is really helpful in the case of motion sickness because it also prevents nausea. The amount that needs to be given to your cat must be prescribed by the vet.

  • Diazepam can be given too, but it must be used with caution. Some cats experience liver problems when given this drug so only use it if absolutely necessary and under veterinary supervision, of course.

  • Antiemetics are drugs used for preventing vomiting. If your cat has no psychological problems with riding in a car, this might be the best option.

  • Dramamine is sometimes used for cats, just as for humans.

#16: Dementia

Repeated “darting” of the tongue in a snake-like manner might be a sign of dementia for senior cats. Unfortunately, there is not a lot you can do for a cat with dementia, except for keeping her safe and cozy in a familiar environment.

Wrap Up

white and gray cat with his tongue out

The hilarious blep is definitely an endearing behavior. It makes us laugh and reminds us that cats, too, have a lot of goofiness inside of them, no matter how hard they try to seem graceful and gorgeous.

While this is usually a harmless occurrence, if it happens often and is followed by other symptoms and signs, don’t ignore it. Your cat might be having a health problem that is bothering her a lot, but she has no way of telling you.

Enjoy your silly time with your cat and make sure to share them over the internet; that’s what it’s there for! Leave a comment below and share with us. You may also find our article on why do cats roll on their backs interesting.

About the author
Jeremy Vaughn
Jeremy Vaughn

Jeremy Vaughn is a member of Canadian Professional Pet Stylists, who lives in Winnipeg. Creating new looks for cats and other pets is his passion. Jeremy shares his house with the wife and wonderful Siamese cat.

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