Have you ever seen your feline friend smacking her lips and wondered why? It might seem cute or funny, but for some cat parents the behavior is a cause for concern, especially if it is new or out of the ordinary.
If your cat’s lip-smacking behavior is constant and associated with other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or weight loss, it could be indicative of a bigger issue that needs immediate attention.
So, what does it mean when cats smack their lips? Should you worry? This article will explain all you need to know about your cat’s lip-smacking and what you can do about it.
Why is my cat smacking her lips?
Cat smacking lips while sleeping – is it normal?
If you have been a cat owner for a long time, you may already have seen your cat smacking her lips in her sleep. While this might look adorable, is it normal?
Lip-smacking is a normal behavior in most cats. Some cats lick or smack their lips after a delicious meal, while others might display this odd behavior while they sleep. Generally, this behavior should not cause you any concern, unless the cat repetitively licks her lips even while awake.
Excessive lip-smacking is often an early warning of a medical or behavioral problem. While some of these are minor and can be managed easily, certain causes might be more serious. So, if your furry friend suddenly starts with this behavior, you should look out for other physical or behavioral symptoms as well. Is the lip-smacking new and constant? Does it only occur when your cat is anxious? Does it always happen during her sleep, or during meal times?
Knowing the other signs that accompany the lip-smacking habit will help you and your vet determine any potential problems.
However, if your kitty is only lip-smacking in her sleep, then she is probably just dreaming!
Cat smacking lips – Common causes
There are circumstances in which your cat’s lip-smacking and licking rituals are quite normal. The problem arises if she displays this behavior excessively and beyond the normal, as this can be indicative of a bigger issue.
Your cat might smack her lips for a number of reasons – some can be minor while others might be more serious. The common reasons for feline lip-smacking are explained in detail below:
1. Tasting food leftovers
Cats like to groom themselves after a meal to remove food leftovers from their mouths and fur. Smacking their lips to get rid of food remnants is therefore nothing to worry about, as this is just part of your pet’s grooming ritual. Check whether she smacks her lips exclusively after eating; if she does it outside of feeding times, you might need to investigate further to rule out potential health issues.
2. Tasting something unpleasant
Most cats are prone to a bit of mischief, and they might end up chewing on odd things like bugs, dirt, or even spilt cleaning chemicals on the floor. Your cat might salivate profusely after ingesting things that taste odd or unpleasant, and this will cause her to smack her lips. Taking medicines can also cause cats to produce excess saliva due to the medicine’s bitter taste. As long as your cat has not swallowed anything poisonous, she should be perfectly fine.
3. Stress and anxiety
Lip-smacking in cats can be a clear sign of stress or anxiety, especially if it comes with other signs like flattened ears and a swishing tail. Hence, it is important to evaluate your cat’s body language to determine whether the lip smacking is associated with fear or nervousness. If you suspect that your furry friend is stressed, you can help calm her down by identifying and removing the trigger.
Some cats might also smack their lips in advance of hissing or biting. If you notice these signs of feline aggression, make sure to give your furry friend some space to avoid potential attacks.
4. Ptyalism or hypersalivation
Ptyalism is the excessive production of saliva in cats. If your feline friend is struggling with hypersalivation, she might smack her lips continuously and annoyingly to remove the extra drool. It should not be a cause for serious concern if your cat does this occasionally. However, too much is not always good. If you notice other symptoms starting to emerge, such as loss of appetite or vomiting, it might be time for a visit to the vet.
5. Xerostomia or dry mouth
Dry mouth syndrome, or xerostomia, is a condition associated with excessive dryness of the gums, hairballs, and renal failure in senior cats. The lack of saliva causes cats with xerostomia to smack their lips while pushing their tongue out in an attempt to create moisture. Cats suffering from fever and dehydration also tend to display symptoms of xerostomia. Watch out for other signs such as an unpleasant smell from the mouth, increased body temperature, dry fur, and weight loss. If you suspect your cat is struggling with dry mouth and throat syndrome, consult your vet immediately for proper medical attention.
Cats are prone to intoxication due to their curiosity and fastidious grooming habits. They might ingest poisonous plants and bugs, or lick their fur after it has been contaminated with toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, due to their small bodies and lower liver metabolism, they can quickly become sick even from a small amount of toxin. Drooling or hypersalivation is the most common symptom of intoxication in cats, which leads to continuous smacking of the lips.
So, if you notice your cat smacking her lips, watch out for other symptoms to make sure that she has not ingested bugs or chemicals that may be toxic. Call your vet immediately if signs of poisoning emerge, such as hypersalivation, vomiting, breathing problems, diarrhea, lethargy, or seizure.
Just like humans, cats can also be allergic to several triggers, such as fleas, mites, hay grass, food, pollen, and dust. These irritants not only trigger respiratory distress, but also cause stress and excessive salivation in cats. When these allergens enter the body, you might notice behavioral changes such as lip-smacking, excessive grooming, and scratching. Other symptoms you need to look out for are sneezing, coughing, hives, and a runny nose. Never ignore these symptoms – a trip to the vet should help you determine what triggers your cat’s allergies and how to manage them appropriately.
8. Obsessive-compulsive disorders
Obsessive-compulsive behaviors manifest in cats through unstoppable, habitual behaviors. Cats with obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD might scratch, meow, chew, groom, or lip-smack in an exaggerated way for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, these abnormal behaviors can have devastating effects such as physical injury due to compulsions. There is no known cure for OCD in cats, but symptoms can be managed with medicine and behavioral therapy.
9. Displacement behavior
Displacement behavior occurs when a cat displays an irrelevant response during a stressful or unpleasant situation. For example, your cat might feel undecided over whether to fight or run away from an attacker, and instead might resort to grooming and lip-smacking as a calming mechanism. Stress and anxiety are the main culprits behind this odd behavior, so your vet might recommend therapy, pheromones, or anti-anxiety drugs to improve your pet’s quality of life.
10. Nausea and upset stomach
Nausea and stomach problems generally cause drooling or hypersalivation in cats. They might smack their lips to remove excess saliva and then vomit, especially if they are extremely dehydrated. There are many possible reasons your cat might become nauseous; it might be related to hairballs, poisoning, stress, infection, or gastrointestinal problems.
11. Oral and dental diseases
Oral and dental diseases can cause cats to indulge in excessive lip-smacking out of pain and discomfort. This might be due to gingivitis, tooth cavities, oral infections, a build-up of tartar, oral ulcers, and other oral problems. Cats with oral and dental diseases will also display other symptoms like loss of appetite, drooling, and sudden weight loss.
12. Wounds or bites
Cats lick their wounds to clean them and to relieve the pain. If the wound is located in or around the mouth area, your cat will likely smack her lips more often to relieve her discomfort. This kind of wound can be inflicted during cat fights or when your cat gets a bite or sting from a bug outside your home. Look for signs of scratches or cuts if you suspect your cat is smacking her lips for this reason.
13. Upper respiratory infection
Upper respiratory infections such as colds might seem a simple problem, but they can be fatal in certain cases. Cats with respiratory issues caused by bacterial and viral infections can experience irritation and discomfort in their airways, causing them to smack their lips more than usual. You might also notice other symptoms including throat pain, a runny nose, and drooling, which should warrant a visit to your vet.
Why is my cat smacking her lips while staring at me?
Just like their canine counterparts, cats lick or smack their lips when they anticipate something tasty. If you are preparing a meal, for example, your cat might stare at you while smacking her lips in anticipation of a delicious bowl of food.
However, there are also other circumstances when cats might smack their lips while looking at their owners. As mentioned before, this might have something to do with stress, anxiety, or a medical issue.
Do cats smack their lips while being petted?
Cats often associate grooming with positive experiences during kittenhood. Mother cats groom their kittens as a way to clean, provide comfort, and show their affection. So when you pet and scratch your cat’s back, she may lick or smack her lips to nurture the bond you are sharing. It could also be her way of telling you how happy and content she is being around you.
When you should worry
Your cat’s lip-smacking is often not much of a problem. Cats normally do this once in a while, especially after eating.
However, lip-smacking can be indicative of another issue if other symptoms start to emerge. For example, if your cat is drooling while smacking her lips, it could mean she is struggling with stress or oral disease. Thus, it is wise to check her mouth the moment you notice any unusual lip-smacking.
Consistent licking and smacking of the lips can also be a warning sign of other health issues or behavioral problems. Sometimes, it could indicate poisoning. If you notice any abnormal symptoms or behavioral changes, your best approach is to have your pet examined by a vet.
Wrapping it up
Your cat’s lip-smacking is rarely a cause for serious concern, unless the behavior is new and consistent, as this can be a sign of behavioral or medical issues. Be observant of any other symptoms that might accompany this lip-smacking behavior, and with your vet’s help, you should be able to address any issues with therapy and medications.
Image: istockphoto.com / Stegarau