It is cute, but is it healthy? Your adorable little kitten's sandpapery tongue poking out at you may have you wondering if you should laugh and grab a camera or be on your way to the animal emergency room. Luckily for you, this behavior is almost always completely normal.
When kittens and cats are happy, their muscles relax, including their facial muscles. This is the No. 1 reason why kittens stick their tongues out. If your kitten is purring, rubbing on you, twitching his skin and generally showing signs of pleasure and relaxation, rest assured that his cute little tongue sticking out at you is completely normal.
If you have a very young kitten, she may stick her tongue out because her front teeth are not in yet, or because she is teething. Kittens' incisors grow in first, and until they are in, your kitten's tongue may poke out between her lips, especially when she sleeps. When a kitten is teething, she may stick her tongue out, drool and engage in chewing and biting play behavior.
If you have an adolescent kitten, he may be sticking his tongue out as part of his flehmen response. This is an open-mouth scenting behavior that is an element of animal romance. Your cat might make a face that looks "yucky" or disgusted to you, but he is actually smelling other cats ... particularly female cats! And don't think it's only for males -- girl cats also have a flehmen response.
In rare cases, your kitten's tongue sticking out can signal a problem. If he is also stumbling or having trouble breathing, eating or drinking, something is wrong. He may have injured his mouth or have oral ulcers. In very rare cases, your kitten may be suffering from a serious illness. If your kitten is persistently sticking his tongue out and showing any signs of pain, difficulty moving or other abnormal behavior, he needs to see a veterinarian immediately. Sticking the tongue out, drooling and inability to eat and drink can signal a neurological disorder or a communicable disease, including distemper and rabies. If your kitten has a questionable background or has not yet been vaccinated, any behavior that fits this description is cause for concern. If the behavior came on suddenly and your kitten appears to be in pain or struggling to breathe, carefully check the mouth for any foreign object or laceration and make your way to a veterinarian.
- Principles & Applications of Domestic Animal Behavior; Edward O. Price
- Veterinary News: Tooth Eruption and Exfoliation in Dogs and Cats
- Feline Advisory Bureau: Mouth Problems in Cats
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.