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Why are cats' tongues rough and dogs smooth?

Why are cats’ tongues rough and dogs smooth?

August 17, 2023

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When it comes to our furry friends, cats and dogs have always been the top choices for pet lovers around the world. While they both have their unique charms and characteristics, one noticeable difference between these two beloved animals lies in their tongues. Cats have rough tongues, while dogs have smooth tongues. Have you ever wondered why this is the case? In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of feline tongues and canine tongues, uncovering the reasons behind their distinct textures and what implications it has on their behavior and care.

The Rough Tongue of Cats

Why are cats' tongues rough and dogs smooth?

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a cat’s lick can attest to the abrasive nature of their tongues. But why are cats’ tongues so rough? The answer lies in the structure of their taste buds and specialized papillae.

The Papillae

Cats possess tiny, backward-facing barbs on their tongues called papillae. These papillae are made of keratin, the same material found in human nails and hair. They give the tongue its rough texture, similar to a fine-grit sandpaper.

These barbs play a crucial role in a cat’s grooming routine. When cats lick themselves, these papillae serve as miniature brushes that help remove dirt, debris, and loose fur from their coats. The rough texture also aids in distributing natural oils produced by their skin, keeping their fur healthy and shiny.

Additionally, these specialized papillae assist cats in efficiently removing meat from bones when they consume prey. The backward-facing barbs help to strip flesh from bones with ease, allowing them to consume every last bit of their meal.

Taste Buds

While taste buds may not be immediately associated with a cat’s rough tongue, they also contribute to its unique texture. The taste buds of cats are located on the upper surface of their tongue, which is covered in papillae.

Unlike humans, who have around 9,000 taste buds, cats have far fewer. However, their taste buds are highly sensitive to certain flavors, such as sweetness. This sensitivity to sweetness is believed to be a result of their evolution as obligate carnivores, with a preference for meat-based diets.

The combination of the rough texture from the papillae and the limited number of taste buds allows cats to efficiently explore and consume their food. It also explains why cats may be less inclined to enjoy certain flavors that humans find appealing, such as sweet or salty foods.

The Smooth Tongue of Dogs

Unlike their feline counterparts, dogs have tongues that feel smooth to the touch. While this difference may seem subtle, it stems from variations in the structure and function of their tongues.

Purposeful Design

Dogs’ tongues are designed to serve different purposes compared to cats. Instead of using their tongues primarily for grooming, dogs rely more on other means, such as licking with their lips or using their paws.

The smooth texture of a dog’s tongue enables them to lap up water more efficiently than if it were rough. The lack of papillae allows water to flow smoothly over their tongue’s surface without causing any disruptions or impediments.

Additionally, dogs use their tongues for cooling purposes. They pant to regulate body temperature, and the smoothness of their tongue aids in evaporative cooling. When dogs pant, moisture on their tongue evaporates rapidly, helping them dissipate heat and stay cool in hot weather.

Cleaning Efficiency

While dogs may not have rough tongues for grooming purposes, they still maintain good hygiene through other means. Dogs use their tongues to clean themselves, though not to the same extent as cats.

When dogs lick their fur, they are primarily removing dirt and debris rather than grooming their coats. Their tongues act as a tool to brush away loose particles, ensuring their fur stays relatively clean.

Caring for Cats’ and Dogs’ Tongues

Understanding the differences in tongue structure between cats and dogs can help pet owners provide better care for their furry companions. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Cat Care Tips

  • Regular brushing: While cats groom themselves, regular brushing can help remove loose fur and prevent hairballs. Use a brush that is gentle on their sensitive skin.
  • Dental care: The rough texture of a cat’s tongue aids in cleaning their teeth naturally. However, it’s still important to provide dental care by regularly brushing their teeth or offering dental treats approved by veterinarians.
  • Preventing hairballs: Cats’ grooming habits can lead to the formation of hairballs. To reduce the risk, consider feeding them specialized diets formulated to minimize hairball formation or using hairball remedies recommended by veterinarians.

Dog Care Tips

  • Hydration: Dogs need access to fresh water at all times. Their smooth tongues allow them to drink efficiently, but it’s important to ensure they have enough water available, especially during hot weather or after exercise.
  • Dental care: Dogs are also prone to dental issues, such as plaque and tartar buildup. Regular toothbrushing with dog-friendly toothpaste and providing appropriate chew toys can help maintain good oral hygiene.
  • General hygiene: While dogs may not groom themselves as extensively as cats, they still benefit from regular brushing to remove loose fur and prevent matting. Additionally, regular baths can help keep their coats clean and healthy.


The rough tongues of cats and smooth tongues of dogs serve specific purposes based on their unique evolutionary needs and behaviors. Cats’ rough tongues aid in grooming and consuming prey, while dogs’ smooth tongues facilitate efficient drinking and cooling.

Understanding these differences allows us to provide better care for our feline and canine companions. By incorporating regular grooming, dental care, and hygiene practices into our pet care routines, we can ensure that both cats and dogs lead happy, healthy lives.

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