"A cat tongue works like a very smart comb"
November 26, 2018 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Cats love to groom themselves almost as much as they love to sleep, spending up to one-quarter of their waking hours cleaning their fur. The secret to their self-cleaning success? The spines on their tongues are curved and hollow-tipped, according to a paper published today in the journal PNAS. These tiny spines, called papillae, can transfer large amounts of saliva from mouth to fur, which not only cleanses Fluffy down to her skin but also lowers her body temperature as the saliva evaporates.
The results don’t just provide insight into how one of the world’s most popular pets stays clean. They’ve also inspired a new type of brush, called the TIGR (the Tongue-Inspired GRooming) brush [has picture of severed cat tongue attached to a handle]. Studded with small, curved flexible spines just like those on a cat’s tongue, the TIGR prototype readily removes loose hair or fur from humans and felines alike but can be cleaned with the simple swipe of a finger. It may even possibly make cats less allergenic by removing excess dander, Hu says.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (25 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
FLUUU-UUUU-UUUFY! ohgod
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 1:58 PM on November 26, 2018


1. This is really cool.

2. Coulda lived without knowing that kitty tongue spines were made of the same stuff as fingernails.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:07 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Scientists discover that cats have rough tongues. I keed! This is really cool, would love to see one of those brushes once they get past the prototype phase.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:09 PM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


And if you've always wanted in on this, there's the Licki brush
posted by RobotHero at 2:12 PM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


Cats also drink in a super interesting way that involves their tongue touching the surface of the water and physics pulls the water up and into the mouth from the bottom. They don't use it as a scoop.

When a cat is going to drink water, it will stick its tongue out, curl the tip of its tongue backward, not forward. This curled tip will touch the liquid, barely penetrating the surface, then retract its tongue back into its mouth very, very fast. The water sticks to its tongue and a mini-stream subsequently shoots up into its mouth thanks to the power of adhesion and cohesion, respectively. The cat will then close its mouth at exactly the precise moment where the most water will be in its mouth, just before gravity starts to pull it down.

https://antranik.org/the-ingenious-way-cats-and-dogs-drink-water/
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:12 PM on November 26, 2018 [8 favorites]


A severed cat tongue attached with twine to a weird bit of plastic is...not really what I was expected when I clicked that link...even though you said immediately after that that is exactly what the link contained.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:12 PM on November 26, 2018 [8 favorites]


My cat loves to lick my face.

At first I thought she was just really affectionate.

But as it persisted through the years I have come to believe she is trying to flay me in slow motion.
posted by srboisvert at 2:15 PM on November 26, 2018 [15 favorites]


Scientists Have Studied The Freaky Weirdness of The Cat Tongue

I'm feeling grumpy today and choosing to take it out on stupid-ass headlines like this one. It's not "freaky" or "weird". God. You never having heard of something before isn't what those words mean. Ughhh.
posted by bleep at 2:19 PM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


My cat has the softest fur of any cat I’ve known, also the most raspy tongue - it’s actually painful to be licked by her, and she likes to lick a lot.

So... science!
posted by Artw at 2:39 PM on November 26, 2018 [14 favorites]


I feel like this could inspire hair grooming salons that are modelled on those cat cafes, but with some kind of setup whereby the seated customer's head is poking through the floor of a room full of cats that would just lick their head - fish oil would be applied to the customer's hair to encourage the licking.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:39 PM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


There, there, bleep. How about a nice scrub down with my prototype dog tongue brush (it's basically a soaked sponge).
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:39 PM on November 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Now can science explain why my cat likes to carefully sniff my face and then lick me directly on the lips?

Because I hate that.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:12 PM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


I need science to help cats and dogs clean themselves less loudly please
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:18 PM on November 26, 2018 [8 favorites]


My cat can control the raspiness of her tongue. Right now she gently licked me, it was moist and gentle and kind of nice.

She also has a high-grit mode that can draw blood in less than a dozen licks. I have many scars to prove it.
posted by yesster at 3:28 PM on November 26, 2018 [9 favorites]


Speaking as a household staff member for three cats, I wish science could cure them of trichobezoars: see the 7 Facts About Hairballs [Mental Floss]. Nothing wakes you up as fast as stepping on a fresh slimy one at 2 AM...
posted by cenoxo at 3:50 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


My cat Mystery was a shy little thing when I got her. It took a long while to persuade her to sit on my knee, or to stay there for any length of time. A major milestone was when she finally felt relaxed enough wash herself while sitting in my lap.

A washing cat can't necessarily perceive an immediate threat; she washed when she felt safe enough to let her guard down. I took it as a great compliment and held still until she finished chewing on each of her dainty white toes.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:37 PM on November 26, 2018 [11 favorites]


I am also the proud owner of a tiny little black manx who is simultaneously the softest thing ever and ready and willing to abrade off your dermis with just the barbs on her tongue. For little fluff-beasts cats have an awful lot of pokey and scratchy bits.

(Yes I know about the barbed penis we don't have to bring it up every time oh god I just did)
posted by aspersioncast at 4:58 PM on November 26, 2018 [9 favorites]


Oh, Elaine Benes knows allllll about the papillae. One of my cats likes to groom me, though I suspect she’s also trying to keep any encroaching unibrow at bay. A couple swipes of that tongue between the eyebrows and I’m OK not to tweeze for a while. Thanks, Agnes!
posted by but no cigar at 5:43 PM on November 26, 2018


Now can science explain why my cat likes to carefully sniff my face and then lick me directly on the lips?

Smell is a hugely important form of communication for cats. Your cat wants to know where you've been and what you've eaten recently, for these are among life's most pressing questions, to cats, and sniffing provides the answers. (The licking may mean your cat thinks whatever you had was tasty, and they're checking to see if you left any in your whiskers, as it were.)
posted by halation at 5:48 PM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


My cat can control the raspiness of her tongue. Right now she gently licked me, it was moist and gentle and kind of nice.

She also has a high-grit mode that can draw blood in less than a dozen licks. I have many scars to prove it.
posted by yesster


What you're implying is that cats can erect the spines on their tongues the way they can the fur on their bodies, which -- now that you've pointed it out -- seems like it must be true.
posted by jamjam at 6:22 PM on November 26, 2018


My Maine Coon cat had a tongue like a curry comb. Whenever she licked my skin it would leave a pink mark.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:33 PM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


Re the trichobezoars thing it really comes down to just brushing them every. single. day.

Especially kitties of the Maine Coon/Forest cat inclination. It sucks, but she (different cat than the manx mentioned above) hasn't had a hairball since I became fastidious about it 3-4 months ago.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:33 PM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


Given that evolution works in systems, rather than discrete components, I wouldn't be surprised if there were enzymes in cat saliva that had originated specifically for maintaining the cat's hair.

Which means that, as soon as they're discovered, there is a very real property of someone developing hair products with an ingredient based on it; they, of course, won't advertise them as containing synthetic cat saliva, but it'll be there.
posted by acb at 1:13 AM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Coulda lived without knowing that kitty tongue spines were made of the same stuff as fingernails.
Keratin is in hair too though? And therefore kitty fur too.
posted by edd at 4:49 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Given that evolution works in systems, rather than discrete components, I wouldn't be surprised if there were enzymes in cat saliva that had originated specifically for maintaining the cat's hair.

I always used to joke about my dear departed Steve having Downy fabric softener in her saliva because her coat always smelled so nice.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:18 AM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


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