Since the 1940s when an engineer at MIT filmed a cat drinking, we knew that cats lap water by entending their tongues straight down toward the bowl with the tip of the tongue curled backwards, so that the top of the tongue touches the liquid first. Recent slow-motion video from researchers at MIT, Virginia Tech and Princeton shows that the tip of the tongue barely touches the surface of the liquid before the cat draws its tongue back up. As it does so, a column of liquid forms between the moving tongue and the liquid’s surface. The cat then closes its mouth, just in time to capture the liquid before gravity pulls it back down. This style of drinking is very neat. Water doesn’t get on the cat’s chin and isn’t splashed all over (like dogs).
Many people think the little barbs on a cat’s tongue help it drink. But the new video shows just the tip of the tongue touching the liquid. You probably know from your cat licking you that the tip of the tongue is much smoother than the center, and doesn’t have the big barbs. The tongue barbs are used for grooming and eating, and they may also help the cat keep the liquid in it’s mouth. But that part of the tongue isn’t dippped into the water when the cat drinks.
I’ve also read, and observed in my cats, that they swallow after every 4 or 5 laps of water. Lap, lap, lap, lap, swallow. Lap, lap, lap, lap, swallow. It’s very rhythmic. This behavior makes sense as the cat gets enough liquid into its mouth to swallow and not have it drip out as it tries to lap up more water.
Another interesting thing about cats and drinking or eating is that many cats do not like to eat or drink from bowls that touch their whiskers. Small round bowls or bowls that are too deep can cause a lot of bending on the whiskers when the lowers its head to eat. This is one reason why some cats will paw the food out of their bowl or will tip their water dish. If your cat does this, try a shallow oval-shaped bowl and see if your cat is more comfortable with that bowl. Kitty may still play with the food or water, but then you probalby just have a playful kitty. At least you know it’s not becuase his whiskers are getting squeezed by a small bowl.