4. The Rough Side of the Tongue
If you’ve received a loving lick from your cat, you know that sweet pink tongue feels like rough-grade sandpaper or Velcro caressing your skin. And a jungle cat’s tongue is even harsher. All feline tongues, from tabby house pets to 600-pound (272 kilogram) Bengal tigers, are covered with tiny barbs or hooks, giving the tongue a rough texture. These microscopic projections face toward the cat’s throat, and are the tools that help to groom his coat. The barbs work like a comb, catching and cleaning the cat’s fur. In the wild, these rasps tear the flesh off the bones of the big cat’s prey.
Cats’ tongues may be the busiest part of their anatomy. They lick their coats not only to keep clean, but to regulate their body temperatures, fluffing up the fur in winter and wetting it down with saliva to stay cool in summer.
As cats’ tongues work, they collect flakes of skin, loose fur, fleas and dirt. Cats swallow this debris — which is usually dissolved by stomach acid. Some cats, especially long-haired or older ones, may ingest too much hair to dissolve, and upchuck hairballs. Giving your cat hairball ointment will help him digest the hair he or she swallows.