Why Do Cats Drool?

It can actually be very sweet 😻

cat drooling

Does your cat turn on the waterworks every time you go in for a cuddle?

And no, not cat tears. Drool. Cat drool.

Plenty of cat parents can relate. They know that, like dogs, cats can be notorious droolers.

“We’ve all heard the popular saying that ‘cats rule and dogs drool,’ but the truth is that cats drool too (just as dogs also rule),” Dr. Alison Gerken, a veterinarian at Florida Veterinary Behavior Service, told The Dodo.

Sometimes, cat drooling is perfectly normal — but there are cases when it can mean something is wrong.

To help you understand whether your cat’s drooling is OK or something to worry about, The Dodo spoke with Dr. Gerken to get her take on drooling behaviors in cats.

Normal drooling in cats

According to Dr. Gerken, drooling is considered a normal cat behavior unless it is caused by an underlying medical issue.

Here are some cases when a drooling cat is perfectly normal (and kinda cute)!

When you pet him

If you’re giving your cat a rubdown and you notice a bit of drool — this is perfectly fine. In fact, it means you’re doing a great job.

This happy drooling behavior is often paired with purring and kneading (aka making biscuits).

“Drooling is normal if it occurs when a cat is relaxed, calm and content,” Dr. Gerken said. “If your cat drools when interacting with you, take this as a high compliment that your cat is enjoying this interaction.”

While flattering, getting splashed with cat saliva every time you show affection can be a bit much. Dr. Gerken recommends laying a towel on your lap whenever you interact with him to act as a drool barrier.

And if your cat doesn’t drool when you pet him, don’t worry about it — your cat still loves you. He just never inherited that quirky (and wet!) behavior.

When he’s stressed

A cat will also drool if he’s fearful and stressed about something, Dr. Gerken said.

You’ll see fearful drooling most commonly during “car rides, veterinary visits or loud noises.”

While this type of drooling is normal, you definitely don’t want your cat to feel stressed or fearful of anything. “Stress and fear may compromise a cat’s quality of life, so drooling should prompt you to speak with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist about options for reducing your cat’s stress,” Dr. Gerken said.

When there’s food

A cat might also drool if there’s food around, but obviously this isn’t as common as it is in dogs. If your cat drools while waiting for his meal, it’s totally fine (and pretty funny).

He tasted something bitter

Your cat might also be drooling because he just tasted something icky. You’ll most likely see this happen right after feeding him oral medication. “If your cat immediately starts drooling after you administer a medication to him, this is likely an indication that the medication is bitter,” Dr. Gerken said.

This shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. Next time, try hiding your cat’s medication in cat-friendly foods like chicken or a small amount of cream cheese. You can even make the medication more tasty through compounding (which is when a pharmacist changes a medication by mixing different ingredients together if a certain dosage or form of medication isn’t already available).

When drooling is a concern

If you notice drooling with no visible triggers, sudden random drooling or drooling that lasts a long time, you should take your cat to the veterinarian to investigate.

“While drooling may be a sign of your cat’s emotional state, it may also be the only sign of a medical illness,” Dr. Gerken said. “Cats are masters at hiding illness until they are very ill, so any change in your cat’s normal behavior, including drooling, should be considered a potential medical issue and should prompt evaluation by your veterinarian.”

If your cat is sick, you’ll have a bigger issue on your hands than just a little drooling. Below are some underlying medical issues that can cause this abnormal behavior.

Oral problems

You might find that your cat is drooling because of a problem in his mouth. Here are some oral problems that cause drooling in cats:

  • Tooth resorption (when a cat’s tooth breaks down)
  • Tooth root infection
  • Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
  • Stomatitis (inflammation in the inside of the mouth)
  • Mouth tumors
  • Kidney disease (which can cause ulcers on the gums, cheeks and tongue)
  • Trauma to the oral cavity, including jaw fractures and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
  • Wounds to the oral cavity (like electric burns from chewing on electric cords)

These oral diseases and issues can be painful, “which may make a cat more reluctant to swallow, thereby leading to a buildup of saliva,” Dr. Gerken said.

If dental disease is to blame, there will usually be other signs that make it obvious — like bleeding from the mouth, bad breath, difficulty chewing or swallowing, food falling out of the mouth and your cat pawing at his face. “However, sometimes drooling is the only sign of oral disease,” Dr. Gerken said.

Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if oral issues are to blame after a thorough examination of his mouth.

Nausea

Drooling is also a common sign of nausea in cats.

“A number of medical issues may cause nausea, including gastrointestinal disease, kidney disease and liver disease,” Dr. Gerken said.

A nauseous cat might also vomit, have diarrhea, have a decreased appetite and be lethargic. “But sometimes drooling is the only sign that something is wrong,” Dr. Gerken said.

If your vet suspects nausea, they’ll likely recommend “bloodwork to evaluate organ health, fecal testing to evaluate for gastrointestinal parasites, and imaging of the abdomen like abdominal X-rays or an abdominal ultrasound,” she said.

If your cat only drools on car rides, then your cat may have motion sickness. Your veterinarian can prescribe an anti-nausea medication to help your cat during travel.

Foreign objects

If your cat has a foreign object stuck somewhere in his body (ouch!), he might start drooling.

“In cats, the most common foreign body in the mouth occurs when string becomes wrapped around the tongue, but other materials like parts of a toy or bone can also become stuck when chewed or swallowed by a cat,” Dr. Gerken said.

If you spot something in your cat’s mouth that shouldn’t be there, don’t try to remove it yourself! This is a medical emergency and should be handled by a vet ASAP.

Poisoning

If your cat comes into contact with a toxic substance — like a poisonous flower or a toxic chemical — he might start drooling.

If you suspect your cat has been exposed to something toxic, bring him to the vet immediately.

If your cat is drooling, the best thing to do is consider context. It may clue you in to your cat’s health — or prove that your cat is more like a dog than he’d probably like to admit.