If you’ve ever been licked by a cat, you’ve experienced the roughness of the tongue, almost like sandpaper. A cat’s tongue is covered with barbs called papillae that face backwards and cause the rough sensation. The barbs are made of seratin, a substance found in human fingernails. The barbs serve a number of purposes.
Cats spend a good deal of time grooming themselves. the tongue barbs help to loosen and catch dirt and debris, cleaning the coat. They also catch loose hairs which are often swallowed creating hairballs.
Grooming also removes any food the cat may have eaten. This is important because besides being predators, cats are also prey and the smell of food on them can attract other predators.
Your cat uses grooming to relieve anxiety and stress. If stress is high, a cat will continually lick the same spot causing bald spots or even sores. Often cats will groom each other to show affection and/or to socialize.
The barbs help the cat remove meat from the bones of killed prey.
Never give your cat yarn or string to play with as they will get caught in the barbs and the cat cannot spit them out. They can causing choking or if swallowed, become wrapped around intestines and/or cause blockages.
Cats have less taste buds than humans and they cannot taste sweets. They are obligate carnivores meaning that the vast majority of their diet is meat. Oddly enough, 2 of our cats did enjoy some sweets. Ilo liked to steal any cake left unattended. And Cindy enjoyed sharing strawberries and cream with my Mom. Perhaps it was texture that attracted them rather than taste, but we’ll never know.
When a cat licks a wound, circulation in the area is increased which helps to aid faster healing.
Cats can control body temperature through licking, keeping them warmer in cold weather and cooler in the heat of summer.
Finally, if your cat licks you, it’s probably a sign of love, always a welcome touch.