Research

Animals Lapping

Cats and dogs drink by using their tongues to pull a column of water up.

Without full cheeks, cats, dogs, and many other animals cannot use suction to drink. Instead, these animals press their tongue against a fluid and lift it rapidly to draw up a column of liquid. They then close their mouth on the liquid before it breaks up and falls down. (Cats are a bit neater about it, but as the high-speed images above show, dogs use the same method.)

A new study takes a look at the mathematics behind this feat, specifically how long it takes for the liquid column to break up. Normally, we describe that problem using the Plateau-Rayleigh instability, but in its usual form, the PR instability doesn’t account for the kind of acceleration drinking animals apply to the fluid. This new study modifies the equations to account for acceleration and finds that the predicted time it takes for breakup is consistent with the timing of animals closing their mouths on the water. In other words, cats and dogs are likely timing their lapping to maximize the amount of water they catch with each bite. (Image credits: top – C. van Oijen, others – S. Jung et al. 1, 2; research credit: S. Jung)

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