Domestic cats sleep an average of 14 hours a day, but when they are awake they spend up to a quarter of their time licking each other to eliminate fleas , debris and freshening the hair that covers their body.
Their tongues are covered with hundreds of pointed spines curved in the same direction called papillae, which are responsible for giving such a rough touch to the sinhueso. These fine structures contain an empty cavity at the tip that plays a key role in feline grooming, according to a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .
“It has been studied before how the amount of fleas increases if cats do not clean up and there were already microscopic studies of the papillae. But we were the first to discover that the papillae have a gap that is involved in the licks, “says researcher David Hu, co-author of this work to Sinc.
Each cavity in the shape of “U” is responsible for collecting saliva from the mouth and then distribute it by the hair in the licks. Specifically, each of the holes can store up to 4.1 μL of saliva, amount equivalent to one tenth of a drop of the typical eye drop. In addition, with each lick, the tongue deposits about 50% of the fluid in the coat to cool and regulate body temperature.
The cat’s papillae have an empty cavity that stores saliva / ALEXIS NOEL
In this way, the relief experienced by cats after grooming depends on whether the papillae can penetrate the fur to reach the skin. This explains why some species of domestic cats, such as Persian cats with long hair, have a hard time preening. (You can read: The first and only cat in space is 55 years old )
“The papillae have to reach the skin to dissolve the oils and the rest of the materials. Persian cats have a coat too thick to penetrate the papillae. Since they can not reach the skin, the cat can not clean up completely, “adds Hu.
To reach these conclusions, researchers Alexis Noel and David Hu recorded high-speed images of cats licking and used a computerized tomography technique, as well as measurements of the power of the lick, to understand the mechanism behind each lick. Also, they analyzed the organ of six different species of felids – wildcat, puma, irbis, tiger and lion – that they collected after their death.
From the data obtained, the authors of the study designed a brush inspired by the cat’s tongue. According to the researchers, this tool can be useful to eliminate the allergens of cat fur and to apply lotions and medicines on the feline’s skin. Their curved tines also allow to detach the excess hair easily, which differentiates them from traditional brushes.