Why Do Cats Blep? Everything You Need to Know
Cats are complicated creatures and it can be difficult to always know exactly what they want, let alone thinking. But there are times when your cool feline shows his dufus side – and this is where the blep comes in. Scroll through social media and you’ll no doubt see pictures of cats with their tongues poking out of their mouths like a frozen cartoon character. This is known as ‘the blep’. But while it may look cute, it’s also a little odd and so you may be wondering what it means. We take a look at the cat blep to see when it is harmless, daft behavior and when it could mean something a little more serious.
The Science Behind the Blep
So, exactly what does blep mean? The blep is where your cat pokes its tongue out for no obvious reason and leaves it there, at least for a few seconds. And believe it or not, it has a scientific name – the flehmen response. While poking out their tongue could be due to an absent-minded mistake, your cat may well be blepping in response to an external stimulus such as an aroma that needs investigating. Their tongue is able to help analyze the smell so your cat can make a decision about what to do – whether it’s the pheromones of another cat to see if they are in season or the delicious smell of their food.
Your Cat’s Tongue and the Blep
Your cat’s tongue may also be one of the main reasons why your cat bleps, and this is due to the rough texture – due to sharp barbs called papillae – which helps your feline to efficiently groom themselves. Just like a brush, these papillae will pick up fur and bits of food which can get snagged on the surface of the tongue. This caused an uncomfortable sensation for your kit, meaning he may well be doing a cat tongue blep to get some relief.
Other Reasons Behind the Blep
There are other, harmless reasons behind the cat sticking tongue out phenomena, including:
- He’s chilled and relaxed: A relaxed cat is more likely to let his tongue loll out as he loosens his jaw, creating the quirky blep look. The look will be more pronounced in cat breeds with flatter faces as they have less space in their mouth to keep their tongue contained. Cats can also blep when they are asleep, again, due to the fact they are totally relaxed. However, if you have stressed-out cats with tongue out, it can be a sign of anxiety and you may need to take steps to help them become little more chilled.
- You’ve caught him off guard: Yup, just like humans, cats can put their guard down and be caught looking a bit of a goof. Catching your puss unawares, say when he is grooming or pondering what to do next and has his tongue out, he may well briefly forget to pop it back in as you take him by surprise. And, if he is caught by a stranger, that tongue may well blep for a little longer as your cat works out what to do next. As long as that tongue pops back in, there is no need to worry!
- He’s smelt his dinner: Just as your cat uses his tongue in the flehmen response to ‘taste the air’, he can also use his tongue to catch the scent of food, especially if he’s hungry. Those little stimuli receptors on his tongue can help him to work out what’s cooking and whether he should be getting excited about his food bowl – or not!
- He may have a tooth missing: Your cat may suddenly start blepping as he unconsciously tries to fill the gap with his tongue or gets into the habit of licking the space where a tooth used to be. This will lead to his tongue poking through and lolling out. This is a harmless habit and should be no cause for concern, but you need to make sure the lost tooth is not affecting other things, such as his ability to eat.
When the Blep Could Be a Sign of Something More Serious
While it does look odd, blepping is usually normal behavior in cats and as long as there’s an obvious, harmless reason for that lolling tongue, there is no need to worry. However, there are rare occasions when the blep means all may not be well, including:
- Dental issues – periodontal – or gum – disease can be a reason for your cat’s sudden blepping habit. Poor dental health can lead to a build-up of plaque on your cat’s teeth, leading to irritation of their gums. Inflamed gums can be uncomfortable for your pet and you could see them drooling as well as flicking their tongue out to get some relief. If you suspect teeth or gum problems are behind the blep, get them checked out by the vet and also look at improving their mouth hygiene.
- Possible toxic shock: If your cat has ingested something they shouldn’t or has eaten a poisonous substance, blepping can be sign they are suffering from toxic shock. Sudden or uncharacteristic blepping accompanied by drooling could indicate they are trying to get rid of the substance from their mouth. If they are also showing signs such as vomiting, respiratory issues or confusion, then contact your vet pronto.
- Heatstroke: If your cat is getting a little hot under the collar, he may well stick out his tongue to help him cool down. Normally this isn’t anything to worry about, although if it is warm, encourage them to come in out of the sun and give them a shady indoor space to stay cool. However, if the blep is accompanied by panting (which a cat doesn’t normally do) and appears lethargic or uncharacteristically agitated, this could be a sign your feline is struggling to regulate their body temperature and is suffering from heatstroke. Heatstroke can be life threatening so take them immediately to the veterinary center.
- Feline dementia: Cats can succumb to feline dementia as they get into their senior years, which can affect their everyday behavior. Blepping on a regular basis can be a symptom of cognitive disfunction in your precious pet, especially if it’s accompanied by other behavior, such as staring at walls, persistent crying, and confusion when using the litter tray. If you suspect your older cat’s blepping is a possible symptom of dementia, do get them checked out by the vet.
What to do if you are Concerned About your Blepping Pet
So, there you have it – the cute behavior now officially known as blepping can happen to any cat and in most cases, is nothing to worry about. But if the blepping has suddenly started, your cat is blepping more and more or is showing other signs of poor health and distress, pop them along to the vet to get them checked out. That way you can be sure all is ok with your feline and that their quirky blepping habit is just another reason to love them.