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Why Do Cats Blep? 11 Vet-Reviewed Reasons for This Behavior

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on February 16, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

a cat blepping

Why Do Cats Blep? 11 Vet-Reviewed Reasons for This Behavior


Dr. Maja Platisa Photo


Dr. Maja Platisa

DVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Of all the adorable habits that our cats have, blepping has got to be the cutest one out there. A blepping cat has their tongue poking out of their mouths, and it’s an adorable look!

While the origin of the word “blep” isn’t clear, we know that cat lovers know exactly what you mean if you tell them your cat has been caught doing a blep or even better, if you take a photo as evidence! There are whole corners of the internet dedicated to sharing photos of cats blepping, and it’s one of our favorite things to look at when we need cheering up!

You’ve probably caught your cat with their tongues poking out, but exactly why do cats blep? There are several reasons, some of which are natural or instinctive behavior, but some may indicate an underlying health issue. If your cat’s blepping is in any way related to signs of illness, particularly difficulty breathing, they need to see a vet immediately. Let’s take a look!

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The 11 Reasons Why Cats Blep

1. They’re Tasting a New Flavor or Feeling a New Texture

Most cats love routine, and that includes knowing what to expect when it comes to their food. So, if you’ve recently switched to a new brand of cat food with a distinctly different or strong flavor or texture, it may take your cat a while for them to become accustomed to the new sensations.

Some cats blep when trying to focus on what is different about their new food. If you’ve slowly transitioned your cat to their new diet by mixing the new food with the old, this behavior should stop quickly.

The same goes if your cat has been exposed to a new or unfamiliar smell or scent, whether from a different animal, another pet, or various household smells, such as from cooking. If your cat continues sticking their tongue out, you may want to schedule a vet appointment to rule out any issues with your cat’s mouth.

Image Credit: Pixabay

2. They Got Distracted During Grooming

Cats come across as regal and elegant, but sometimes they’re a little bit silly. If your cat was grooming themselves and suddenly got distracted by a flock of birds coming in to land on your bird feeder, they might completely forget what they were doing.

In that case, they can be left with their tongue sticking out, providing you with the perfect opportunity to take cute photos!

3. Your Cat Is Relaxed While Sleeping

Like us, when our cats relax and drop off into sleep, their jaws relax. At this point, your cat’s tongue can fall out of their mouth. You’ll often see flat-faced breeds like Persians blepping in their sleep. The flattened shape of their face leaves less room in their mouths for their tongue.

As they fall asleep, their tongue starts to poke out as a result. Cats with missing teeth may also blep when they’re relaxed or sleepy.

cat on the grass blepping
Image Credit: Pixabay

4. They’re Picking Up Scents

You might expect your cat to pick up scents using their noses, but cats will also use their mouth! Many mammals, including cats, carry out a social behavior called the Flehmen response. The cat will seem to be taking a breath with a slightly open mouth and may even poke their tongue out a little bit, all to better catch scents that they’re picking up toward an organ called the Jacobson’s, or vomeronasal, organ.

This organ analyzes scents, usually pheromones left by other cats. Male cats can often be seen carrying out the Flehmen Response, especially if there’s a female cat in heat in the area. If you’ve moved to a new neighborhood, your cat may be working out the messages left behind by other cats’ pheromones.

If your cat stands still with their mouth slightly open, this is likely what they’re doing. Some cats forget to pop their tongue back in if they’re concentrating hard on a particular scent!

5. There Is Food in Their Mouth

If your cat eats freshly cooked chicken or very tasty wet food, they may end up with a little bit of food on their tongue or mouth. They may also be licking their lips as they are finishing their meal. If your cat is blepping but also looking a little irritated or restless or trying to paw at their mouth, there could be a piece of food stuck between their teeth.

As they try to remove the offending piece of meat, they can end up sticking their tongue out. However, sometimes they may have a foreign material stuck in their mouth or at the back of the throat that they can’t get rid of, leading to pawing, gagging, retching, sticking their tongue out, or drooling.

You can try safely checking your cat’s teeth to see if there’s something that they need help removing. If you can see something but can’t remove it yourself, it’s best to call your vet, and they may want to see your cat in the clinic.

cat blepping
Image Credit: Pixabay

6. Your Cat May Have Dental Disease

Dental disease, most commonly referred to as gingivitis, periodontal disease, and tooth resorption, is one of the main reasons pet cats need vet attention. As plaque and tartar build-up on your cat’s teeth, it can lead to painful inflammation, bacterial infections, and gum disease.

Some cats stick their tongues out and drool more than normal if they have dental disease while refusing dry food or becoming very picky, losing weight, having a bad breath, bleeding from the mouth, chewing awkwardly, and pawing at their mouth.

Another condition, feline stomatitis, can cause inflammation and ulcers in your cat’s mouth. This can also lead to a cat sticking their tongue out.

7. Your Could Have a Medical Problem or an Injury

Besides dental disease and oral ulcers, there may be other health reasons for cats sticking their tongues out. They can include trauma to the mouth, such as fractures at the level of the symphysis, where the left and right lower jaw connects, making it impossible for the cat to close their mouth and leaving their tongue sticking out.

Other causes include swelling inside the mouth, damage to the tongue and other soft tissue injuries, the presence of foreign bodies at the back of the throat, or cancer.

Besides sticking their tongue out, oral disease may exhibit as:
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Inability to fully close the mouth
  • Swelling on the gums or cheeks
  • Bad breath

If you catch your cat blepping, but it’s combined with any of these signs, it’s important to ask your vet for advice,

8. Your Cat Could Be Overheating

If you see your cat blepping but they’re panting or breathing rapidly with an open mouth and their environment is too warm, they could be overheating. Cats sweat through their paws, and if they start to overheat, they’ll start panting to try and cool themselves down.

Signs of heatstroke include:
  • Panting
  • Vomiting
  • Collapse
  • Drooling
  • Shock and death (if left untreated)

Heatstroke is a serious condition and requires veterinary attention immediately. If your cat suffers from heat stroke, it can result in organ failure and death.

Never leave your cat in a warm room or inside a car, not even for a few minutes, as the temperatures can rise quickly, and ensure they always have sufficient ventilation and shade, particularly during summer months.

9. Your Cat My Have a Respiratory Issue

Respiratory problems like asthma, cat flu, or an upper respiratory infection can make it difficult for your cat to breathe. This is a life-threatening emergency!

If your cat’s cute blep is combined with the following signs, your cat needs to see a vet urgently:
  • Lack of balance
  • Weakness
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Increased respiration rate
  • Lack of interest in food
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose

Urgent veterinary treatment and medication are crucial to help your cat feel more comfortable and allow them to breathe better, depending on the cause of their illness.

If your cat is struggling to breathe, breathing rapidly, or breathing with an open mouth, please do not waste time and get them checked by your veterinarian immediately.

10. Your Cat Could Be Nauseous

Cats often stick their tongues out while traveling, and while it’s not necessarily a true blep, it can be a sign that your cat is suffering from travel sickness. If your cat’s mouth is open and they are drooling or starting to meow and becoming distressed, the car’s motion may make them feel sick.

Usually, they’ll stick their tongues back in once the journey is over or they have vomited, but if your cat still seems unsettled when you get home, call your vet for advice. The same can occur if your cat feels nauseous for a medical reason, such as gastroenteritis, pancreatitis, advanced kidney or liver disease, gastrointestinal neoplasia, or other causes.

If your cat is vomiting or drooling while blepping occasionally (unrelated to a car journey), it’s crucial to get them checked by your vet as soon as possible.

11. Your Cat Might Have Been Poisoned or Ingested an Irritating Substance

It’s a horrible thought, but sometimes, blepping can be a sign that your cat has eaten something that they shouldn’t have that may be very irritating to their mouth, and they’re trying to get rid of the flavor. If your cat’s tongue is hanging out and they’re also displaying any of the signs below, seek veterinary attention urgently.

Possible signs to tell if your cat has been poisoned:
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Retching
  • Gagging
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Neurological signs based on type of toxin – loss of balance

Household cleaners, pesticides, and some food can be poisonous to cats, so if you think your cat may have eaten something that they shouldn’t have, consult your vet and check out the Pet Poison Helpline.

cat vomitting
Image By: Sarah2, Shutterstock

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Blepping Can Be Good and Bad

Catching your cat doing a blep can be pretty funny. Some cats do it all the time, and others hardly do it at all. If it seems like a normal behavior for your cat and they’re in otherwise good health, go ahead and take as many photos as you like. And please share them with us!

But if your cat’s blep is accompanied by other behavioral changes or one or more of the above-mentioned signs of illness or injuries, speak to your vet to get your cat a clean bill of health. Blepping is usually adorable, but it can be a sign that something isn’t quite right with your cat’s health.

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Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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