As a cat owner, you know it's not unusual to see a cat sticking their tongue out when they are grooming themselves, eating, or drinking water. But what about when they are just sitting there, or even sleeping? Turns out, the internet gave this cat behavior a name: blepping.
A "blep" is when an animal displays a tiny amount of visible tongue, and keeps it out long enough for you to take an Instagram pic as opposed to just a quick flick of the tongue. A cat blep usually looks like your cat stuck her tongue out for a while and forgot to pull it back in. This "tongue hang" happens occasionally, because it's a way of your cat getting more information about the scents in the air than she can from just sniffing. But when your cat does it when she's sleeping, something a little different is going on.
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The Flehman response
Cats have a nose, of course, but they also have an additional scent organ called the vomeronasal organ or a Jacobson organ. This organ is located between a cat's hard palate at the back of their throat, and their actual nose. When cats want to get a "3D sniff" of the air, or in other words, gather as much information as possible about what they are smelling, they will open their mouths and often stick out their tongues. This is different from panting.
It isn't likely that you cat is engaging his Jacobson organ while he's sleeping. There could be a couple of different things going on if you see the tip of his little pink tongue hang while he's crashed out. One likely culprit is simply that he got so relaxed that his tongue slipped out . . . just as how a person's muscles relax and our mouth opens when we are sleeping. A very happy cat could just be very relaxed.
Another possibility for cats sticking their tongues out is that there could be something stuck between the teeth in your cat's mouth. Even the most attentive cat owner can neglect their cat's mouth, because we just expect that everything behaves as it normally should. It is possible that there's something stuck in your cat's throat, or stuck to the roof of their mouth, and that's making him not want to pull his tongue all the way in or close his mouth.
Another mouth-related issue could be an unhealthy build of tartar or plaque on your cat's teeth. Advanced periodontal disease can be painful, and could impact a cat's desire or ability to keep their tongue in their mouth. An overabundance of plaque leads to inflammation, which could make it uncomfortable for them to close their mouth.
If you notice your cat blepping while she's sleeping, evaluate the air conditions. Because cats are covered with fur, they do not sweat to cool themselves off like humans do. They cool off through their paw pads, and by licking their fur to encourage evaporation. If she is overheated, she may stick her tongue out and begin to pant as a dog might, and she may even do this while sleeping.
It's possible that your cat could have been exposed to something toxic, or been stung by an insect. If his tongue is swollen, he may not be able to bring it into his mouth. If this is a new development in your cat's sleeping habit, it is worth investigating his tongue and throat to see if there's anything that could be causing a breathing issue.
Does your cat have a flat face?
Cats who have flat faces might stick their tongues out more. Flat-faced felines, such as Persians, could simply have less space in their mouths or a breathing issue due to their anatomy. Most of the time it's fine, but if the flatness is extreme it could be something to keep an eye on.
Bottom line on why your cat falls asleep with her tongue out could come down to a few things: they are so relaxed they don't realize they're doing it, they are experiencing some mouth or breathing issue, or, if they're not quite asleep yet they could be engaging their Flehman response. Every cat is different, and we all know that some of them can be quirky! So investigate why your cats may be sticking their tongues out while he's sleeping, but if there's not an obvious reason for it, it could just be the way he is.
If you notice your cat's tongue sticking out while they're sleeping, first eliminate the possibility that they're overly hot, have a swollen tongue because they came into contact with something toxic, or have periodontal disease. If none of these options seem likely, it's probably just that your cat's jaw is very relaxed! Additionally, flat-faced cats might stick their tongues out more because they have less space in their mouths.
- Feline Living: Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongue Out? Is It a Symptom of Something?
- Canidae: What is a Flehmen Response in Cats?
- Catalogical: Why Do Cats Stick Their Tongues Out?
- Trupanion: How Cats Cool Down
- Petside: Why Do Cats Blep?
- Senior Cat Wellness: What Does it Mean When Cats Stick Their Tongue Out?
- Woman's World: The Fine Art of the ‘Blep’: Why Cats Stick Their Tongues Out