Are Cats' Tongues Supposed to Be Bumpy?

"My tongue helps me groom myself."
"My tongue helps me groom myself." (Image: Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

The first time Whiskers licks your hand, you might be surprised by the sandpaper-like texture of his tongue sliding over your skin. What you're feeling are little bumps or knobs on his tongue that are called papillae. The rough texture of your pet companion's tongue comes naturally and has several functions.


The hooks on the bumps at the center of your cat's tongue face backward and are called filiform papillae. These bumps help your pet companion when he grooms himself. When he licks his coat, the bumps hook into his hair like a hard-bristled brush, enabling him to easily remove loose hair and debris. Unfortunately, the bumps also make it impossible for your cat to spit out the hair, which is why he ends up ingesting it and might eventually throw up a hairball.

Flesh and Bones

In the wild, when cats have to catch their own prey, the filiform papillae help them remove the flesh from the bones. The hook-like bumps double as meat scrapers. After eating, wild cats will groom themselves profusely, again using the same bumps on their tongue. They do this to eliminate traces of the prey from their coat. Neglecting to groom after feasting on a meal is dangerous, because a larger predator might detect the prey's scent and go after the cat.

Taste Buds

Whiskers's tongue has mushroom-shaped bumps along the sides and front edges and several cup-shaped bumps toward the back. These are his taste buds. When your pet companion eats, his tongue helps him distinguish the size, texture and shape of the food. Once the food mixes with saliva in his mouth, cells activate in his taste buds and help him recognize what he's eating. Although your cat's taste buds can distinguish salty, sour and bitter foods, they can't distinguish sweet-tasting foods.

Oral Mass

Although your cat's rough, bumpy tongue is normal, if you notice an unusual growth on your cat's tongue, a visit to a vet might provide answers. The bump you're seeing might be a cancerous or non-cancerous growth. A biopsy can help determine what you're dealing with. Oral masses are more likely to emerge in older, male cats. If it's cancerous, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy might be suggested. Early detection is essential, because the treatment has a greater chance of being successful.

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