Wild cats and domestic cats allowed to hunt feed by tearing pieces of flesh from their prey and swallowing them whole as cat’s totally lack grinding teeth. The food is not chewed but digested entirely in the stomach. Most prominent among the cat’s 30 teeth (kittens have four fewer) are the four long canines set below the nose and above the chin which are used for killing and holding prey and for tearing the flesh.
Behind the canines are sets of carnassial teeth top and bottom, 14 in all, whose function is to cut meat into suitably sized pieces for swallowing. Between the canines are six incisors in each jaw. These play a part in ripping and tearing food. When a cat eats canned cat food, it has no need to use the canines and will often gulp the food straight back. Hard, dry food, however, is transferred to the carnassial teeth to be crunched before swallowing.
Outdoor cats will often find enough natural prey to exercise their teeth and gums and keep them in good order. Indoor cats however indoor cats need to give variety in their diet to provide this exercise as canned foods are not adequate on their own.
The cat’s tongue also has a role in feeding. Its rough abrasive surface is used for rasping and softening food and licking the meat from bones. When drinking, the tongue forms a spoonlike shape to collect a few laps of liquid before swallowing.