Domestic Cats love to groom themselves nearly as much as they love to sleep. These cats which usually sleep for about 14 hours devote one-quarter of their waking hours grooming their fur coat to help eradicate fleas and loose hairs.
Without constant grooming, excess dirt could twist their fur, causing painful pulling of the skin and might even lead to infection. What could be responsible for their effective cleaning ability?
The tongue of a cat is covered in hundreds of curved and hollow-tipped spines that are made of keratin (Keratin is a protective protein that is not likely to tear or scratch easily). These tiny spines are called papillae.
The papillae are as hard as a human fingernail and that is what gives the cat’s tongue the sandpapery surface.
Each papillae possesses a groove that immediately picks up saliva when the tongue is drawn into the mouth and can transfer the same quantity of saliva picked up by the papillae (about 4.1 microliters) from the mouth of the cat to their fur on each lick.
The saliva not only cleanses the fur of the cat, it also helps reduce the body temperature as the saliva evaporates.
This entails that cats can lose up to a quarter of the total body heat they need to expel each day through the tiny bit of saliva in their tongue spines Additionally, the saliva contains enzymes (special chemicals) that also help in the breakdown of toxins.
To understand fully the role of these papillae during a cat’s grooming, scientists decided to do more research.
The team specifically looked at certain kinds of papillae on the cat’s tongue. The scientists discovered that papillae resemble scoops in terms of shape, which help them to swiftly absorb saliva through capillary action, the same effect that helps draw water up trees.
What the scientists discovered was that papillae on cat tongues draw up saliva from their mouth through their hollow endings, and do so exceptionally well.
The team realized that the papillae efficiently draw up saliva and spread it all over the cat’s fur
On careful examination of the various cat tongues, scientists identified four stages in a cat grooming lick – tongue extension, tongue expansion and tissue stiffening, a sweep of the tongue through the fur, and tongue retraction.
As earlier stated, domestic cats spend one-quarter of their waking hours grooming their fur using their tongue to remove dirt from their fur.
The papillae can penetrate through a cat’s fur to the skin – the length of the papillae can differ for this very reason, the study showed.
As a result of this, the team got an idea to develop a brush based on the features of the cat tongue.
Tongue Inspired Grooming (TIGR) Brush
Based on their findings, the scientists developed a brush called the Tongue-Inspired Grooming (TIGR) brush.
This TIGR brush features 3D-printed artificial papillae – that are way bigger than those on a cat’s tongue. This 3D model is then placed on top of a flexible silicon substrate.
This experimental brush combs hair without the use of much force, which is not the case with the standard hairbrush.
Apart from being incredibly effective in combing, scientists feel it can also be used to applying lotion or medications onto skin covered with fur.
Additionally, there seems to be every possibility that the TIGR brush could help with removing allergens from cat fur. It is also easier to clean than a standard brush.
Its papillae can rotate if needed to avoid tangling.