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5 Great and Terrible Things About Your Cat’s Mouth

We break down the craziness that is the cat's mouth, detailing teeth, tongue, strength, germs, and glands. Open up!

Angela Lutz  |  Aug 13th 2012

Your cat’s mouth is a fascinating cavern of mystery and intrigue, where some really neat stuff happens. Science agrees! Check it out.

1. Teeth

Your house cat has 30 permanent teeth and the same dental anatomy as a mountain lion. None of cats’ teeth ÔÇô- not even their molars -ÔÇô have grinding surfaces; they were intended only to eat meat. But as cat owners know, improper tooth structure does not prevent these little house lions from brutalizing the occasional houseplant. Cats can get gum disease, cavities, and infections just like people, so you might want to examine her teeth by pulling back her lips and smelling her breath, particularly if your cat is more than five years old. My cats are most likely to allow this if they’re in the middle of a really serious nap, as they are disoriented and unaware of the full extent of my interference with their heads.

2. Tongue

Your cat’s tongue is a work of art. It is covered with papillae, which are made from keratin, the same material as human fingernails. The papillae face backward to form tiny hooks that assist with awesome stuff like eating, grooming, and swallowing prey. Downside: The abrasiveness of your cat’s tongue can cause her to inadvertently swallow lots of hair when grooming; you can help by brushing her regularly. Upside: Science recently discovered that when cats drink, they pretty much defy gravity. Their tongues barely brush the surface of a liquid before darting quickly back up, forming a column of water between the moving tongue and the surface of the liquid. It’s like magic that happens in your home every day.

3. Strength

Just in case you needed another reminder that your cat is a finely tuned killing machine in a cute, cuddly body: A cat’s jaw is strong enough to crush its prey’s windpipe or tear open its throat. Cats used to be much larger and their fangs were longer, so they could bring down larger prey with a weaker jaw. But as the species evolved to be smaller, their jaws strengthened to compensate, meaning your mind-bendingly adorable bed-warmer’s jaw can crush with enough force to break your finger.

4. Germs

You’re probably more likely to get sick from kissing another human than from kissing your cat; however, "cat scratch fever" is more than just an annoying song from the ’70s. More than 130 disease-causing microbes exist in your cat’s mouth, and due to her long, thin teeth, bites are more likely to cause puncture wounds, which can reach into joints and bones and are extremely difficult to clean. Up to 80 percent of cat bites can get infected if the wounds are not properly treated.

5. Glands

Scent glands in your cat’s face -ÔÇô as well as the pads of her feet -ÔÇô carry her unique scent. So when she rubs her face on you, she is labeling you as one of the gang. If your cat were the bouncer at a nightclub, you would totally be on her VIP list now. She also uses the vomeronasal (or Jacobson’s) organ in the roof of her mouth to "taste" scents and analyze pheromones, which makes it even more disgusting that my gray tabby, Bubba Lee Kinsey, likes to sleep with his face crammed in my sweaty gym shoes.

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