Do cats have tonsils?

Cats have tonsils. These masses of soft tissues with a pink mucosa covering are not readily seen as they are located at the rear end of the throat. Tonsils have the primary function of protecting the body from harmful contaminants. Strategically positioned behind the mouth and the nose, tonsils serve as sentinels that screen pollutants, germs and other harmful foreign substances that will enter the body. Now aren’t you glad that like us humans, our pet cats have tonsils too?

Domestic animals can have six kinds of tonsils. These are the soft palate tonsils, tubal tonsils, pharyngeal, paraepiglottic, palantine and the lingual tonsils. Among the domestic animals only the sheep and goats have all these six types of tonsils. Cats and pigeons do not have proper tonsils. Rabbits only have palatine tonsils but this type of tonsil is not found in pigs. The horse, dog and ox do not have paraepigllotic tonsils. Dogs and cats do not have the tonsils of the soft palate and the tubal tonsils. The body of an animal is protected from external environmental hazards by the skin and mucosa. To protect the body the skin has skin-associated lymphoid tissues (SALT) and the mucosa has the mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) as defence mechanism. Tonsils that consist of a collection of lymphoid cells are major elements of MALT. Strategically positioned at the crossing of the respiratory and digestive tracts, tonsils have an important role of providing the body immunity as these are the sites where harmful antigens enter the body while breathing and feeding.

Cats have four types of tonsils. These are the lingual tonsil, the pharyngeal tonsil, a pair of paraepiglottic tonsils and a pair of palantine tonsils. The lingual tonsil of cats is poorly developed thus it would be very hard to observe and study even macroscopically. The lingual tonsil that consists of a collection of lymphoid cells is found in the mucosa at the root of the tongue. The pharyngeal tonsil of cats is very similar in histological characteristics and appearance to those found in dogs. This kind of tonsil is situated on the roof of the nasopharynx. Cats’ paraepiglottic tonsils are located in the same position as those found in sheep and pigs – at the base of the epiglottis. This type of tonsil varies between individuals. Well-developed paraepiglottic tonsils can be observed macroscopically. In some individuals, this tonsil is less manifested and would only be viewed as a collection of lymphoid cells. Compared to dogs, cats have larger palantine tonsils. Cats’ palantine tonsils are reddish and oval shaped and composed of lymphoid tissues that mainly contain secondary lymphoid follicles.

Tonsils are not unlike security guards stationed at the portals where germs and harmful contaminants will enter the body. Tonsils are actually the body’s first line of defence against inhaled and ingested pollutants. Tonsils provide local immunity by trapping bacteria and antigens and holding on to these harmful foreign agents to allow the body to have the necessary time to produce antibodies that will fight the invasion. However, it is rather ironic that these infection sentinels would often succumb to infection. Tonsillitis is not as common in cats as in dogs but cat parents would still need to know the signs of this health concern so that proper care and treatment can be given to the pet. A cat with tonsillitis would be lethargic and have elevated temperature. Anorexia, coughing and gagging, head shaking and difficulty to swallow are other symptoms of this health concern. Veterinary care must be given to a cat suffering from tonsillitis as this is one kind of infection that cannot be treated at home. Antibiotics are generally administered. Vets may recommend a surgical procedure that will remove the tonsils for cats with recurring episodes of tonsillitis.