You’re scratching your cat when suddenly its tongue comes out. Is this a normal quirk of cats, or is there something wrong with them? Cats have some weird habits, but is this one of them?
Cats will stick their tongues out for several reasons. They might be relaxed and happy because of a release of positive hormones, or you might have released loose fur, and it itches their nose. It could also be a sign of a dental issue that needs immediate attention.
Keep reading to learn the signs of whether your cat is happy or if it needs medical attention.
Your Cat Is Relaxed and Happy
Most cats enjoy being scratched on their heads or under their chins, as it relaxes them. When cats are relaxed, their tongues naturally come out of their mouths because their muscles relax. When cats are happy and relaxed, their tongues are relaxed as well.
It also might be due to how tired your cat is when you scratch them. A cat that is extremely relaxed, and is close to sleep, does not have the same muscle control as to when they are more awake. It also makes them happy, like dogs who are scratched. Their tail begins wagging to show how happy they are. Cats stick out their tongue to show how happy they are.
When cats are being scratched, and their tongues are out, that might mean they are showing you affection, and if they lick you while you scratch them, it’s a sign they love you because they are grooming you as they would another cat. Cats may not naturally be a part of a family group in the animal world; they are social beings and need affection; at least part of the time.
They will also lick the air sometimes when being scratched, as it is a form of non-verbal communication. Take it as a sign that your cat trusts you and loves you enough to be vulnerable around you.
The Scratching Promotes a Release of Positive Hormones
When you scratch your cat, it releases positive hormones that make them happy. Because of these hormones, cats will sometimes stick out their tongue in response. Much like when humans hug each other, scratching a cat releases positive, feel-good hormones that might make them stick their tongue out.
The hormone is oxytocin, which is the love hormone. Social grooming is how many species show love and attachment, so when your cat feels the love from you, they want to reciprocate by grooming you as well. But the drive to feel those positive and loving hormones spurs a cat to seek scratching and petting from you, so you both can have that positive release of hormones and love.
A Cat Is Exploring a Scent While Being Scratched
You might have different scents on your hand while you’re scratching your cat. A cat’s way of smelling things in the air is with their mouth open and tongue out. There is a mechanism known as the Jacobsen organ in the cat’s nose that, when they open their mouth, allows more scent and more information in so they can detect what it is and act accordingly.
This response is known as the Flehmen response, and it helps your cat, and other animals pick up chemicals in the air to analyze it. Cats use this ability also to pick up the pheromones of other cats. Since cats have over 200 million odor receptors in their nose, they can smell the smallest detail humans can’t detect.
So when you’re petting or scratching your cat, and they stick out their tongue or “lick the air,” they might be detecting certain smells, either on you or on them. Or they might just be enjoying the attention.
Loose Fur Might Be Released When Scratched
When you scratch your cat, you release loose fur sitting on the surface. Some of that will fly up to your cat’s nose or mouth, so they will stick their tongue out and back several times to get rid of the fur. Cats always groom themselves and get fur on their tongues, so it’s nothing to be concerned about. When they are done with grooming, they swallow the fur and hack it back up in a ball.
It Could Be a Sign of Dental Problems
Sometimes, even when you’re not scratching your cat, their tongue will hang out because their mouth hurts, or they have a dental problem that needs to be taken care of. Older cats are prone to periodontal disease, which may cause your cat to either stick their tongue out to let it hang or will act like they are licking something while at the same time use their paw on their mouth several times.
Cats with dental problems will also drool more often, which is a sign they are in pain or have a tooth that needs to come out. If any of these signs are present in your cat, make an appointment with a vet to see if it is an infected tooth or something more serious, like mouth cancer.
Another thing to watch for is a lack of interest in grooming themselves. Cats are very meticulous about grooming and will work on their coats several times per day. But if they are not grooming themselves, they may have too much pain in their mouth. If that’s the case, you need an immediate vet visit.
Try scratching under your cat’s chin. If it turns away or refuses to let you touch there, it might also indicate mouth pain.
Your Cat Could Be Hot, Thirsty, or Hungry
While this last point might not be related to being scratched, a cat will sometimes stick out its tongue because it is hungry or thirsty. It doesn’t happen with indoor cats due to their constant access to fresh food and water; outdoor and feral cats have this problem more often.
Cats and dogs both cool themselves by sticking out their tongues, but it’s not so noticeable with cats because they don’t pant like dogs. Their cooling mechanisms are in their tongues and foot-pads, so on a hot day, you might see them sticking their tongues out as a way to cool off.
They also may be thirsty, but by the time a cat sticks out their tongue because of thirst, they might be experiencing a heat stroke. Get them into a cool place, encourage them to drink plenty of water, then call your vet.
Hunger is not as much of a reason for sticking out their tongue unless they are out in the wild. Since they can smell and detect the smallest detail by opening their mouth slightly, they can find a food source better that way. Sticking out their tongue will alert them to potential prey like mice, rats, birds, or rabbits.
There are many reasons why your cat sticks out their tongue when you scratch them, not the least of which is that they are happy you are giving them attention and are showing you their love as well.
Cats don’t always stick out their tongues when you scratch them, especially on the head or under the chin. Certain areas on their bodies are more sensitive than others, and when you scratch there, they begin “grooming” themselves or your hand in response. Halfway down, their back, when scratched, triggers this grooming response for some reason.
Most speculation about this is that it is a mating response area. But no one is completely sure.
- I Heart Cats: Ask a Vet: Why Does My Cat Lick The Air When I Scratch Him?
- Little Fat Kitten: Why Do Cats Stick Out Their Tongue?
- Senior Cat Wellness: What Does It Mean When Cats Stick Their Tongue Out?
- Catological: Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongue Out? (+ 6 Surprising Cat Tongue Facts)
- Raise a Cat: Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongue Out? (9 Reasons)