Cats are famous for their fastidious self-grooming. And as any cat owner probably tell you, these fuzzy fur balls spent a lot of time grooming themselves. According to some studies, up to a quarter of their waking hours. Cat tongue is covered in sharp, little cones known as papillae which they moisten with saliva to clean their fur.
Cat tongue – Grooming
Researchers wanted a closer look at how these papillae actually help cats groom both their outer and inner layers of fur. So they created 3d scans of cat tongue from six species of cats: the domestic cat, the Bobcat, the Cougar, Snow Leopard, tiger, and lion.
Zooming in revealed that the papillae have a U-shaped cavity at their tips. Which has a wicking effect and helps carry droplets of saliva through that top layer of fur down to the cat’s skin.
“It’s very much like a coffee straw when we stick a straw into fluid, the water actually wicks up into this little cavity surface. So when the cat goes to groom, it’s able to take these fluids into the spines and penetrate them deep into the hairs and be able to distribute their cleaning saliva throughout all of the hairs,” said Alexis Noel, a researcher at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.
The scientists also filmed several cats grooming. When they slowed down the footage, they noticed that the cats flared their tongues. So the papillae were perpendicular to the surface of the cat tongue, which maximizes how much fur they came into contact with.
The researchers also used a thermal camera. And found that depositing saliva on their skin helps the cats cool off if they get overheated.
The researchers also designed a hairbrush based on the shape and configuration of the papillae on a cat tongue. Compared to a regular hairbrush, the brush tugged less and was easier to clean, because the papillae are streamlined.
Beyond helping humans get tangles out of their hair or cat fur out of their carpets, the scientists say the brush could potentially help deliver medicine or cleaning solution directly to cat’s skin. Which could help improve treatments related to cat allergies.
“This could be really helpful for carpet cleaning technology. So as to distribute cleaning fluid deep into carpets,” Noel said.
The cat tongue is a multifunctional tool. Capable of distributing saliva to clean and cool the fur layer.
For now, it’s a closer look at the surprisingly complex everyday routine of our fuzzy feline friends.